Stress: the good, the bad, and the ugly

advice.Morgan.48

Stress is a common cause of many health issues and is thought to be related to more than 70 percent of doctor visits. People don’t necessarily come to the doctor complaining of being “stressed,” but when we look closely at the source of many medical conditions, the common root is stress.

When most of us think of stress, we think of it in terms of an emotional reaction. The term “stressed out” is commonly used to define a state of feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, tired, burned-out, worried, anxious or frustrated.

However, stress is defined as something physical, emotional, or mental placing high demand on the body. Stress can be good or bad, depending on what the stressor is and how we control it.

The stress response itself is triggered by positive as well as negative events in our lives; our body does not know the difference. Subsequently, if the stress response is not “turned off” or managed, it could potentially lead to harmful health_advice.graphic.05consequences to our health.

The stress response is also known as the “fight or flight” response. When the body is triggered by an emotional, physical, or mental high demand, the response is turned on automatically.

In general, our body prepares itself to do just that: stay and fight/protect it, or run!!! Adrenaline is a key hormone involved in this process. Once activated, it causes a cascade of events in the body, including decreased blood flow to the area of brain that makes decisions, increased heart rate/pumping of blood with increased blood pressure, muscle tension, rapid breathing, etc.

If left unchecked, the reaction the body has to the stress trigger could potentially cause or worsen illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, migraines, pain syndromes, obesity, depression, and many others. Due to these potential negative consequences to our health, the ability to manage stress is crucial to preventing mental and physical breakdown and illness.

Let’s face it: Stress is a reality and likely won’t disappear from our lives forever, so we need to equip ourselves to improve our health outcomes when under attack. There are several suggestions to managing stress; however, the key is to get the body into a state of relaxation.

The relaxation response is essentially a physiological response that is the opposite of the stress response. In contrast to the hormone adrenaline that is released during the stress response, endorphins are released. These are chemicals/hormones that produce a sense of well-being, analgesia, and relaxation (i.e. heart rate slows down, blood pressure decreases, muscles relax). The ability to trigger this response is crucial to mastering stress.

Here are just a few suggestions for managing stress. The key is to put them into practice! Pick a few and learn to master them. You’ll be amazed at how good you’ll feel.

Think positive; keep a gratitude journal.

Make a change if able, and learn acceptance (i.e. “The Serenity Prayer”).

Say “no” or “not right now.”

Practice deep breathing daily (this is golden).

Live in the present (let go of past, forgive, and don’t worry about future; practice mindfulness).

Smile, laugh, have fun being silly.

Eat nutritious foods, drink water, exercise, and get enough sleep.

Do something fun, enjoy a hobby, volunteer; make yourself a priority-VIP.

Seek help if needed.

 

Hope this didn’t stress you out… Happy de-stressing!

 

is the chief medical officer/medical director at Metropolitan Health Plan (MHP). She is board-certified in pediatrics with additional training in healthcare administration, integrative medicine, and health coaching. She is an active advocate in the community in eliminating healthcare disparities and serves as the vice president of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians. She is the author of the book VIP Very Important Patient: The African American Woman’s Guide to Health Care, Healing, & Wellness