Understanding the mental, emotional and physical strain of stress, how it affects the body and the tips and tactics for traversing life’s nerve-racking waters back to your “set point”
How many times do you hear the word “stress” on a daily basis? You might catch yourself saying, “I’m so stressed,” or hear others say, “Don’t stress me out.” But why is this term so prevalent in our vocabulary? And what exactly does it mean?
Stress is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.” Humans are born with an innate ability to self-regulate. This means that we all have an internal “set point” and our body works hard to keep us at this optimal level. For example, sweating in a hot environment is your body’s attempt to cool down and keep your internal temperature at a healthy 37 C. Unfortunately, when you experience stress for too long a period of time you lose your ability to self-regulate and this can lead to health issues such as anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, weight gain and even heart disease. Chronic stress is a problem because people get used to it and perceive their current stress-filled state as “normal.”
Stress is often caused by situations or pressures that put high demands on individuals. Sources of stress can be negative, such as busy work schedules or finances, or positive, such as getting married or buying a house. You may not have control over every factor that contributes to your stress, but the one aspect you can control is the way you perceive it. Believe it or not, a huge part of stress is caused by your perception of it. Have you ever noticed how some people are deathly afraid of public speaking while others bask in the spotlight? These two individuals perceive the same situation in a much different way. So, the first step in reducing stress is changing your perception of it.
The biggest barrier to stress management is that people become disconnected from their bodies and are desensitized to the actual levels of stress they experience on a daily basis. Signs of stress can be mental (poor memory, inability to concentrate, worrying), emotional (moodiness, irritability, restlessness), physical (body aches and pains, abdominal discomfort, frequent colds) or behavioural (eating more or less, sleeping too much or too little, social isolation). Take inventory of your body right now and really ask yourself: Do I have any of the above signs?
Fortunately, stress can be managed by making lifestyle changes. The best ways to combat stress are: 1) Relaxation techniques: breathing, meditation, self-acupressure; 2) Diet: certain foods, such as complex carbs (whole-grain cereal, bread and pasta), omega-3 fatty acids (tuna and salmon), black tea, spinach and oranges, can decrease stress hormones; 3) Exercise: it boosts oxygen circulation and releases endorphins; and 4) Therapy: counselling, massage therapy and acupuncture.
It’s never too late to take control of your health. Try making small lifestyle changes on your own. If you still need help then speak to a health-care professional and they can help you re-establish your new “normal” set point to be in a healthy, stress-free range.
GUEST HEALTH EDITOR
Acupuncturist and kinesiologist Amanda Merenda has helped the Vaughan community achieve greater levels of health since 2010. Amanda educates her patients on the importance of making health a priority and believes a strong practitioner-patient relationship is the key to long-lasting treatment results. She believes in the body’s self-healing capacity and uses acupuncture and exercise therapy to facilitate the process. For more information, visit www.besthealthacupuncture.com