January 23, 2017

The Ten-Minute Plan to Control Stress

Accepting Change to Prevent, Reduce and Relieve Stress

by Dr. Scott Saunders, M.D.

Stress is change. But for health purposes, stress is the body’s response to change.

Levels of stress depend upon our personal needs.  The greater the change, the greater the stress.

We all have a foundation upon which we rest. Our foundation may consist of our money, home, abilities, job, people, family, and so forth.  Whatever we choose to put our rest in needs to be unchanging.  For example, if we have always had a mother who loves us, we can count on that – no matter what!  Even if we make mistakes and end up in jail, we still have a mother who loves us.  These kinds of things that we rely on are our foundation.  If the foundation changes, it literally rocks our world. The instability causes a great deal of stress.

Changes outside our foundation create little stress.  For example…

  • If a friend’s mom dies, it may have little impact on us. But if our mom dies, it will feel like a tragedy and create a lot of stress.
  • If we depend upon our physical abilities, and have a stroke, it will be stressful to a great degree. But if we depend upon our mind, the loss of physical ability will create a smaller amount of stress.

Besides the bedrock that protects us from the harmful effects of stress, the other important aspect of stress is control.  When we are in control of change, there is little stress.  It is when we have no control over aspects of our life that stress becomes a problem. When scientists want to study stress in animals, they give them a puzzle to solve. But the options are, “Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.” The animal has no way out and becomes stressed.

People who suffer from losing control are continuously in a heightened state of stress.  The crux of the problem is the demand for certainty in a world that is always tentative and uncertain.

Change is an inevitable part of life. Therefore, stress is natural and normal.  Moreover, most of the changes we face are not in our control.  Things happen in spite of all we do to control them.  People change, people die, things break down and disasters happen.  We cannot control everything, but we can manage our response to these stressful situations.

Good stress

Not all stress is created equal. The changing nature of the world can generate a constant supply of good stress.  Cycles of fortune and poverty, feast and famine, allow us to grow and learn.   Instead of being harmful and detrimental to the body, it has been proven that good stress can actually create growth and enhance and improve cognitive brain function

The body gains huge benefit from regular instances of good stress. After a brief period of worry, bad stress can be turned into good stress with the euphoria of a given task completed. Relax and learn to go with stress and grow from it.

Physical stress can be very good. In fact, it is necessary. Astronauts in the International Space Station must take a great deal of time out of their work to stress their muscles. They use large rubber bands, exercise routines and equipment to strengthen their muscles. With no gravity to push against, their bones and muscles can become weak. For every week a muscle is not stressed, it will lose 4% of its strength.

Likewise, we need physical stress.  If I go to the gym and stress my muscles, I am actually breaking down muscle fibers. The body will build them up again – stronger.  Stress makes us strong.  Bones receive strength in the same manner.  Many who have osteoporosis believe they can take a drug to make their bones stronger. But what they really need is to stress the bones with weight-bearing exercises like running, walking or lifting weight. The right stress can keep the body in good physical condition.

Another example of good stress is found in family. It is emotionally stressful to be married and have children. Family responsibilities can be demanding. And it’s hard when you have no control over daily changes. However, as we work through the emotional stressors, we grow in love.

I believe there is no better way to learn to love than to have and raise a family – in spite of all the stress it causes.

Bad stress

There is also, however, stress that destroys:

  • Being in a car accident that stresses the bones too much causes fractures and does damage.
  • Too many toxins create stress on the liver that can cause disease or death.
  • Emotional stress can cause people to become depressed and anxious.

Bad stress tears us down, and doesn’t rebuild.  This happens when there is too much stress in a single place.

Sometimes the healing ability of the body is not sufficient for the stress we create.  Infections, for example, can overwhelm the immune system and cause permanent damage, or death.  This can be true of psychological stress as well.  Many who have been in the heat of battles have become damaged from the trauma beyond the ability of the mind to heal and move on.  It has been called many things, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Gulf-War Syndrome, and various others.  It was even noted by doctors after the US Civil War.

Stress requires an intervention to achieve some measure of healing.  It is not just a case of managing stress.  For example, broken bones often require the expertise of a surgeon to prevent permanent disability.  This may be true of all forms of bad stress. It creates lasting problems that don’t go away on their own. Required resources to effectively deal with stress may be beyond what is immediately available.

signs-of-too-much-stressManaging stress

Long-term stress damages our bodies.  Under stress, our bodies produce stress hormones. These stress hormones affect:

  • Our immune system, allowing infections and autoimmune diseases like adrenal fatigue
  • Sleep
  • Healing from injuries
  • Inflammation
  • Pain control
  • Digestive and reproductive systems
  • And every other system in our body

Research has also linked chronic stress to ailments including depression, heart disease, memory loss and weight gain. Chronic stress causes obesity because it makes us resistant to insulin and leptin.  Chronic stress can be devastating!  Preventing the effects of stress isn’t just a good thing to do… it’s ESSENTIAL!

Since stress is ever present, we learn how to deal with it by managing it, not by avoiding it. The best way to do this is to be prepared for stressful times. If we are prepared to handle changes in our lives, we will not become stressed. For example, if we are healthy, and then get the flu, we can handle it. However, if we’re sick already, incapacitated, or severely ill, we could die from the same illness – not being able to handle the stress of the flu. What we get from being healthy is stress tolerance. The scale looks something like this:

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