Stressed Out (and Sick of it)

Stressed Out? - Marriage and Family Center

Stressed Out? - Marriage and Family Center

Is stress killing you?  Untreated stress can take a huge toll on people.  Let’s look at the causes, effect, and cures of stress.

It seems that everyone has some stress at some point in his or her life.  Many equate stress to be bad; however, there is good stress and bad stress.  When you are having a peak moment—when you are “in the zone,” or completely tuned into to an enjoyable activity—you are experiencing pure, good stress.  Your body is making endorphins (pain relieving chemicals), your immune system is activated, and tissue restoration and other healing processes happen in your mind and body.

On the other hand, when you feel like bad things are going to happen or when you are in a negative situation that lasts more than a minute or two, you have negative stress.  During negative stress, your body makes adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress chemicals. These chemicals get you ready to fight or run away from a threat (fight or flight), and block your immune system.  From a survival standpoint, this makes sense.  After all, you wouldn’t want your body using energy to repair itself or build muscle when a lion is chasing you.  You need all your energy to run.

Impressive stress research has been done on both human and monkeys in recent years.  It turns out that negative stress affects humans and monkeys in about the same way.  If you have a lot of people in charge of you—especially if those people are mean—you are going to have negative stress.  And if that stress isn’t managed, you are going to have serious health problems.

As long as you are good to yourself (some people are their own worst enemies), and if you have very few or very nice people in charge of you, you will tend to feel less stressed and will generally have fewer health problems.

Some of the health problems caused or made worse by negative stress include:

  • Allergies
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Circulatory problems such as high blood pressure, heart, lung, and liver disorders
  • Problems with the digestive system
  • Pain disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Weight gain

Long-term negative stress is literally a killer, so reducing stress is very important. Making changes in your daily life—your job, your activities, your association’s with mean people, et cetera—will reduce your negative stress levels and could save your life.

But what if you are in a stressful environment you can’t easily get away from? The primates teach us about that too.  Some monkeys use stress busters.  For example, monkeys love to groom each other.  Monkeys who spend a lot of time grooming have a lot lower negative stress chemicals and fewer stress-related health problems.

There are stress busters in people too.  Getting together with others for pleasurable social events tends to lower your negative stress chemicals and related health problems.

Another thing you can do to reduce the effects of negative stress is to increase your compassion.  Compassion means that you can appreciate the hardships of others for more than a few seconds at a time. People who regularly reach out to help strangers have lower stress levels.

Two other ways to increase compassion are mindfulness meditation and playing fun games with others.  People who regularly play or practice mind-body focus such as yoga or meditation have less negative stress, more confidence, and more compassion.

So take a look at your life and see what changes you can make either to reduce the negative stressors or to increase your regular use of stress busters. If you need help, call a qualified therapist.

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