Reprinted from Chiropractic Wellness Magazine
Written by: Dr. Suzy Osborne
Continuous, overwhelming stress can be an insidious, silent killer. Stress is a leading contributor to coronary heart disease, which is the number one cause of death in America at this time, causing nearly half of all deaths in the United States.
Considering the fact that stress is a leading cause of death in our modern world, it simply makes sense to focus your energy on prevention and reduction of the stress and anxiety that you can control in your life. One good place to begin is by understanding the physiology of stress, which can help you deal more effectively with this widespread potential killer.
Quick, shallow breathing, tense, knotted muscles (especially in the neck and back), and an increased heart rate are all signs that your body is stressed out and feels threatened. Perhaps your jaw also tightens or you feel pressure in your chest or burning in your stomach. You may also experience headaches or neck pain as a result of chronic stress and anxiety.
When under stress, most people have a tendency to hold their breath or breathe short, shallow breaths from the chest while tensing their muscles. These actions significantly decrease the oxygen supply to the brain and intensify feelings of anxiety or panic.
DON’T: Don’t skip meals or rely on fast food for your energy requirements. Stress depletes the body of vital nutrients and places an extra demand on the organs of your body. Making sure that you supply your nervous system with essential vitamins and minerals is even more important to those who are under stress than those who aren’t.
DO: Pay attention to the warning signs that your body gives you when you are under stress or overly anxious. Slow down, listen to your body and practice deep diaphragmatic breathing. You can’t always control a stressful situation but you can sometimes control how you handle it. Breathe deeply through your stomach-- not your chest--and continue breathing deeply throughout your day as a preventative measure.
DON’T: Don’t overindulge in caffeine and sugar. The quick burst of energy is not worth the prolonged effects that you will suffer later. Look for a healthy substitute for the sugary foods and caffeinated drinks that you normally reach for when under stress.
DO: Make exercise and physical activity a regular part of your healthy lifestyle. As a response to stress, certain glands of the body produce stress hormones which can build up and cause anxiety. Exercise can stimulate the release of natural substances that counteract the negative effects of these stress hormones.
DON’T: Listen to the old negative scripts that play in your head. Instead, keep repeating positive thoughts and visualizing yourself as calmer and balanced. Thinking new, motivating thoughts actually changes the way that your brain is wired and establishes new neural patterns that make up the operational software of your brain and nervous system. Don’t let your thoughts control your mind. Let your mind control your thoughts.
DO: Devote time and energy to engaging in some sort of vigorous exercise, if possible. Vigorous exercise can release pleasure producing chemicals called endorphins. Endorphin secretion has been associated with increased pain tolerance, improved appetite control, and a reduction in anxiety, tension, and anger. Especially important to women is the implication of endorphins in the regulation of the female menstrual cycle.
DON’T: Don’t surround yourself with people who do not support your healthy lifestyle goals. Some people are literally energy vampires and only serve to increase your stress level and reinforce negative thoughts and perceptions that have taken years to form in your brain and nervous system. Instead, spend as much time as possible with people who are supportive and live the kind of healthy, balanced life that you also aspire to live.
DO: Make sure that you get enough high quality sleep. During sleep, your body reenergizes and heals itself and there is less weight bearing pressure on the joints of your body. Research shows that meditation and prayer are also a crucial and effective component of reducing stress and can actually lower blood pressure and a long list of diseases related to stress.