You cannot live without it. So, how do you live with it?
The stress of moving against gravity allows you to develop the muscles you need to stand, walk, and run rather than crawl for the rest of your life. Bacteria, viruses, and parasites stress your immune system and force it to develop into an adequate defense system for you. Encounters with parents, siblings, and others develop your abilities to communicate, cooperate, tolerate, and function within your society. Anything deficient, or anything in excess, of what your body needs to remain normal or balanced causes stress.
Stress cannot be avoided. How you deal with it, however, can greatly influence how it affects you. Dr. Hans Selye (pronounced Sell Yea) stated in his book entitled
The Stress of Life "stress is predictable and always has the same effect on the body." For example, any stress persisting for too long will cause a reaction. At first your body will resist the stress. You may continue to resist successfully until, or unless, the stress persists for too long, too hard, or too often. At some point your ability to resist will reach a stage of exhaustion.
The Effects of Stress
When your ability to resist becomes exhausted, your body begins to compensate or cope with the stress in the best way it can. You may move a different way. Your body may borrow a needed nutrient from another area of your body. You may deny that you have any stress. The eventual result of this compensation, if it continues too long, will be degeneration. In other words, your body begins to break down when it can no longer compensate or cope. The result of degeneration that persists too long is dis-ease. And, of course, the result of disease that is not corrected is death.
It is not the stress itself that causes damage, but your ability or inability to cope. The three major factors that determine the degree of stress experienced with any given situation are lack of predictability, lack of control, and lack of outlets for frustration. Stress due to a lack of predictability would be something like having someone smash into the back of your car while you are sitting at a stop light blissfully listening to your favorite tunes. Stress that occurs when you seemingly have no control over it would be demands of work, holiday seasons, family duties, as well as other types of situations that are part of the "expectations" of our society. Lack of outlets for frustration are often self-imposed. Some suggestions that you may find useful will be reviewed later in this article.
Obviously, the optimal plan for managing stress is prevention and acceptable methods of coping. Since it is virtually impossible to totally avoid all stress, you need to learn to deal with it prior to its reaching the degeneration and dis-ease stages. When it has entered these last two phases, noticeable damage has begun to occur in your body. Avoiding the damage not only helps you lengthen your life but also, more importantly, allows you to enjoy a much higher quality of life. A higher quality of life can certainly be recognized as synonymous with an overall less stressful life.
The Three Primary Stresses
The three primary stresses affecting all of us are Chemical, Emotional, and Mechanical.
Mechanical stress is the result of something external such as temperature or gravity. Standing, driving, walking or sitting all day at work are examples of mechanical stress. Any difficulty, discomfort, or pains experienced as a result of attempting to cope with the effects of gravity are symptoms of excessive mechanical stress. These symptoms can include aches or pains anywhere in your body. Physical injuries are also types of mechanical stress.
Severe, acute traumas such as broken bones, cuts requiring stitches, dislocations, and other severe accidental injuries are best treated in emergency rooms or medical doctors' offices. Less traumatic injuries such as sore muscles, minor strains and sprains, back aches, neck aches, and most other mechanical stress problems can be more effectively treated by chiropractic physicians, homeopathic physicians, physical therapists, massage therapists, exercise therapists, and other preventive health care providers who are better trained to recognize and treat the causes, rather than just prescribe a drug for the symptoms, of mechanical stress. Maintaining proper physical conditioning and nutritional balance are the best ways for you to improve your ability to cope with the every day wear and tear of mechanical stresses.
Emotional stress is the result of things that we think or believe. Each of us responds to emotional stress differently. What is an emotional problem or stress for one person can be totally opposite for another. A perfect example of this is how you respond to holiday seasons such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, or whatever. If you see holiday seasons as completely enjoyable and happy, they result in little, if any, harmful stress. If you believe and expect otherwise, they become a major stressor for you.
W. B. Cannon, in his book The Wisdom Of The Body, described the "emergency response to stress" as the classic "fight or flight" feelings that you experience when you are severely frightened, uncontrollably angered, or feel cornered with no way out. In our present society, neither fleeing nor fighting is usually an appropriate, available, or acceptable response. This inability to flee or fight results in stress being retained and building up over time. Unless you recognize and adequately deal with this type of stress, the degenerative scenario described earlier will eventually lead to the manifestation of some type of problem.
One of the critical factors is how you interpret stress. This key determinant in your response to stress is totally dependent upon memory. In other words, expectation is the ultimate stressor. As such, stress becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your reactions to all types of stress tend to fit your expectations. If you are worried about what your boss will think if you do not complete a particular project in a certain way, you create your own stress. If you are stewing about the future, you are manufacturing artificial stress for something that may or may not ever come to be. If you fret about anything that happened in the past, you are wasting your coping energies on events that you will never be able to change. As with mechanical stress, exercise meditation, and nutrition are extremely effective in helping to cope with emotional stress.
Chemical stress has to do with nutrition or the science of foods which includes:
A breakdown in any of these processes can and does create a chemical stress for your body.
- Ingestion - what you eat and how you prepare it
- Digestion - how you digest what you eat
- Absorption - how efficiently and effectively what you digest is absorbed
- Transportation - how what is absorbed gets to and into your cells
- Utilization - how what gets into your cells is used
- Elimination - how efficiently and effectively you get rid of the wastes produced by your cells
Of these six functions, you have the most direct control over ingestion and digestion. You knowingly, or often unknowingly, ingest things that become chemical stressors. These may include recreational and prescriptive drugs, alcohol, tobacco, food additives such as MSG (monosodium glutamate) and artificial sweeteners, excessive amounts of dietary sugars and fats, and contaminated foods, Water, and air. Any or all of these can be avoided most of the time. When it is impossible to totally avoid them, take the appropriate steps to minimize their harmful affects and, above all, do not worry about it. There is no need to add the emotional stress created by worry to the chemical stress.
Your digestive function requires more energy than anything else your body does every day. In this society it is all too easy to stress your system with excesses and oversights that negatively affect your digestive system. Without proper digestion and its related functions, your ability to cope with any of the other types of stress is greatly reduced.
What You Can Do About Stress
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- Healthly Food:
Eat the healthiest food you can as often as possible. This would include any food that you can grow yourself. Second best would be local, organically grown foods. Since this is not always available year round, you can always choose from the organic produce at natural foods stores. The third option would be produce which is labeled as "No detected pesticide residues." These are often available in the produce sections of many different grocery stores. Your final choice for produce would be whatever is available in grocery stores. Wash and scrub it thoroughly or peel it before cooking or eating it. Always avoid genetically altered foods or foods that have been treated with radiation. Your best selections for meats would be fresh, deep ocean fish, organically raised chickens or turkeys, or wild game. The best food selections for the least stress on your digestive system would be large amounts of fresh, raw vegetables. Fresh fruits, in season, are also good, but should not be consumed in excessively large quantities. Other foods to be avoided include hydrogenated oils (with one exception), milk, sugar, soy, white flour and anything made with it. That pretty well eliminates all of the pre-packaged foods that you find in your typical grocery store. The reasons for all of the foods to be avoided are beyond the scope of this article but are certainly well established within research literature. For additional dietary recommendations, read the suggestions in this article. During the holiday seasons it is virtually impossible to avoid all such ingredients in foods unless you are a hermit. Do not add such excessive worry to your overall stress level. Counteract the negative effects of such indulgences with larger amounts of pure water and fresh, organic vegetables. The best ways to prepare foods are quick stir frys, steaming, or slow, low temperature cooking such as crock-pots. Fried foods are the hardest to digest and create an excessive chemical burden on your body. Choose something else whenever possible.
Read this article on Water for a more complete discussion. You may drink up to one half your body weight in ounces of pure, unchlorinated, unfluoridated water every day. This is a goal most people find difficult to reach. It is, however, an indication of how much more water we could all use. For those who say they do not like to drink water, try squeezing the juice from one half of a fresh lemon into every glass of water. It improves the taste and hardly anyone does not like fresh lemon juice and water. A good way to begin increasing your daily amount of water is to drink one glass of water for every cup of coffee or tea or pop or whatever that you usually drink. This is especially important during holiday seasons when we tend to drink more alcoholic beverages than otherwise. What you will quickly discover is that, as you increase your water, you will begin to drink less of these other fluids that are not providing any nourishment. Invariably, you will also discover that increasing your water intake results in some surprising benefits. You have more energy. You awaken with less aches and pains. Your digestion improves. You are not bothered with heart burn as much or as often. Your blood pressure starts to drop. Your ankles and legs swell less. You just feel better overall. Buy a good water filter to remove the toxic chemicals from your water. Two of the best are the PUR 18 Cup Water Dispenser and the Aquasana Water Filter System.
See our articles on exercise for more complete information. Exercise daily. I know. You don't have time to exercise. You don't like to exercise. I've heard all the excuses and used most of them myself at one time or other. You will never reach your optimal weight or health without regular exercise. This does not mean daily calisthenics, or weight training, or any other regimented activity that does not appeal to you. Daily exercise involves finding an activity or activities that you like to do and doing them regularly. This could include bouncing or walking on a mini-trampoline, walking on the beach or trails, riding a stationary or other type of bicycle, walking or running on a treadmill, swimming, or whatever you wish. The best exercises use the largest muscles of the body such as those in the legs and buttocks. The best part is exercise is cumulative. You do not have to take huge amounts of time out of your day to exercise effectively. The optimal time to exercise is before meals. This time for your activity assures the food you consume after is more likely to be used to replenish muscle supplies used in movement. A lot less is available to be stored as fat. Very simply, five to ten minutes of large muscle activity before each meal becomes fifteen to thirty minutes of the most effective exercise you could possibly do every day. All of us can take such a small time before each meal to do some type of activity that we like or can at least tolerate. The benefits of such a daily regimen are countless. Numerous studies document the effectiveness of exercise for reducing tension and stress, improving cardiovascular function, assisting digestion, insuring a better night's sleep, and too many others to list. Take the time. Be consistent until it becomes a habit. All you have to lose is excess weight and a lot of unnecessary stress.
A five-year study of 2,000 people who regularly practiced meditation found they had fewer hospital admissions in all disease categories compared to the norm. Among other things, this included 87% less hospitalizations for cardiovascular disease, 55% less for cancer, 87% less for diseases of the nervous system, and 73% less for nose, throat, and lung problems. There are a multitude of books, audiotapes, CDs, and videos on meditation. Also, check our Mindful Awareness Meditation. Whatever you choose, practice regularly until you become very proficient. The best time to attempt meditation is first thing in the morning after a good night's sleep. You will be more alert and less likely to fall asleep.
- Slow Down:
Hug a tree.
Stand or walk barefoot on grass or sand.
These simple little suggestions are extremely effective at relieving significant amounts of stress in a short period of time.