We’ve all heard that stress is a killer and that we should learn how to manage our stress levels in order to stay healthy. But how do we do that?
Author, doctor, and one of the world’s leading researchers of neuroendocrine immunology and behavior, Esther Sternberg, commented in a recent interview with ACE that one-third of Americans are living with extraordinary stress and that 90% of us live with continual stress that over time can make us ill. Since some stress is unavoidable in life, it is important to implement some strategies for helping us cope. Before delving into these strategies, let’s take a closer look at the different parts of stress.
The four parts of stress
- The event: The “thing” that happens in our lives.
- Perception: Our interpretation of “the event” as stressful or not. If we don’t perceive the event as stressful, our body won’t have a stress response!
- Brain’s physiological response to stress: A cascade of chemical events ending with adrenaline and cortisol. These chemicals cause the feelings of stress and anxiety such as pounding heart and sweating.
- Adaptation to chronic stress: Immune system wear down. Cortisol, among many other things, is a potent anti-inflammatory, “mutes” white blood cells, and wears down our gut lining where a potent player of our immune system, secretory IgA is made.
Strategies for coping with chronic stress
Perception modification through exercises such as yoga and Tai Chi. Train your mind to not immediately react with a fight-or-flight response. Remember, the body listens to what our mind tells it. Calm your mind and the body will follow.
Sounds in your environment that calm you or lift your mood help reduce stress. Examples are sounds of moving water, nature sounds (birds or other animals), favorite music, audio books, hypnotherapy or meditation recordings, affirmations, and laughter.
Visual reminders of pleasing images at home and at work such as artwork, funny comic strips or quotes, screen savers of vacation/happy memory/relaxing image help shift you away from feeling stressed.
As we age the ends of our chromosomes shorten and this is exacerbated by chronic stress. Dr. Sternberg shares that a number of unpublished medical studies show that walking 30 minutes a day 3 times per week (along with proper diet and mindfulness meditation) can help to increase an enzyme that repairs the ends of our chromosomes to bolster immune system and reduce aging.
Colors and lighting that reduce stress are blues and greens and full-spectrum lighting or sunlight.
Smells that remind you to relax can range greatly from person to person since it is dependent on your association. For some, lavender is relaxing because they associate it with getting a massage. For others, the smell of a certain flower may remind them of their gardening hobby.
Breathing in and out of your mouth deeply from your belly strengthens the calming parasympathetic branch of your nervous system. Taking a few deep breaths like this in a moment of stress can give you that moment of clarity to stop and re-evaluate things and possibly change your perception.
Stress management help in the Bay Area
There are a number of options right here in the Bay Area from stress management workshops, hypnotherapy, biofeedback, therapy, guided meditation, yoga, Tai Chi… and let’s not forget all the beautiful parks and nature we are blessed to have surround us.
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