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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Lower Your Stress Level

May is mental health month, and we are taking a serious look at stress and ways to keep our lives in balance. A certain amount of stress can make life more interesting or challenge us to think creatively about solutions. But, when we have more stress in our lives than we can handle effectively, then we can experience stress overload.
What are some of the most common sources of stress in our lives?
• Changes in the environment (examples: moving, graduation, weddings, holidays)
• Conflicts with relationships (examples: with boss, spouse, children, significant others)
• Internal emotional pressure (examples: projects, expectations, self criticism, insecurity, feeling powerless)

If we have persistent or chronic stress, can this affect us?
• There is a strong link between stress and heart disease. This correlation was discovered over 25 years ago, and it turns out that stress induced inflammation may cause 1/3 of the cases of heart disease (if no other major factors such as obesity, etc).
• Stress causes weakened immune function. Studies have shown that emotional stress can reduce your ability to protect you from infection.
• Stress can cause memory loss and mental impairment. This one is easy to understand… just remember high school and when you knew the answers but forgot it during a test. This is caused by high cortisol levels, which interfere with memory.
• Insomnia. When you have stress, worry and anxiety, the cortisol levels in your body increase, and sleep is deteriorated.
• Abdominal fat. We may not like this one, but higher cortisol levels due to stress can cause an accumulation of belly fat.
• Stress can cause many symptoms we’ve talked about before like depression, heartburn, and sexual concerns. It can also relate to irritable bowel syndrome, hives, ulcers and many other physical concerns.

What can we do to lower our stress?
• Exercise
• Learn stress reduction techniques such as meditation, visualization, breathing techniques.
• Gain and support system and talk about your stressors with others
• Get the proper nutrition and adequate sleep
• Seek the expertise of a professional counselor to gain stress management skills


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