How Stress Can Kill

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Stress

A Stressed Nation

During a mountain hike in India last year, the trek guide asked me, “Is it true that people in America are very stressed and only care about money?” I couldn’t help but laugh at America’s apparent international reputation of being stressed out. Americans are stressed, and not dealing with this stress is leading to self-medication with food, alcohol, drugs and tobacco. It’s well known that these addictions have harmful effects on the body, but stress by itself is also detrimental.

How stress affects the body

It’s normal and even beneficial to experience stress, because without it, we would not have survived as a species. When our caveman ancestors faced death by a ferocious animal, they had to run away, FAST! An involuntary, protective mechanism in the body, called the “Fight-or-Flight” response, releases a cascade of neurotransmitters and hormones which give the body the strength and speed it needs to avoid danger. This adrenaline and cortisol rush is what enables people to perform extraordinary feats under pressure. 

Holistic Health

Nowadays we don’t have to worry about being another creature’s lunch. Instead our jobs, relationships, drama and other problems have become our lions. Issues that have no relevance in the present moment are causing our bodies to react as if there is an actual threat at hand. As long as our minds perpetuate the stressful thoughts, however, our bodies will continue to be worn down, eventually leading to significant medical problems and even death. It’s amazing to me how many patients present to me for multiple health issues that are usually related to stress.

Modern Day

Holistic health

Not pictured above are the many other ways in which stress affects our body. The increase in blood sugar, meant to give us energy during the “fight or flight response,” has now led to an epidemic of hyperglycemia and diabetes in those who are obese or eat an unhealthy diet. Stress has even been shown to weaken the immune system, thus increasing our risk of infections and even cancer.

The mind-body connection can be demonstrated in even more ways. When the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the “fight or flight” response kicks in, our parasympathetic nervous system slows down. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for many important body functions including digestion, salivation and sexual organ function. Your body is not concerned about digestion when it’s about to be digested, however! Add the fact that our digestive system has more nerve endings than our brains, and it’s no wonder why we experience indigestion and constipation during times of high stress. The underactive parasympathetic nervous system also explains why stress can lead to sexual dysfunction.

Dr. Pourang in the Himalayans

Me during the peaceful hike in India.

STOP STRESSING YOURSELF OUT!!!! 

Dealing with stress

A little bit of stress is ok. It helps us meet deadlines and helps us get out of the way of danger. It becomes a problem when it continues to operate needlessly in our lives. Whether we realize it or not, stress is a choice. In fact, according to Google, the definition of stress is as follows:

A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances

We have unconsciously developed a habit of associating a non threatening stressor as a threat with our minds. The good news is, that we can consciously dissociate with our minds as well. Two ways to do this include:

Avoid the stressor,
or
deal with the stress appropriately.

While many of us may not be able to leave the stressful relationship or job, we can learn how to deal with the situations as they occur (aka NOT worrying about things happening when they haven’t/likely won’t even happen.) This may mean choosing not to react negatively to a situation. Or it may mean taking the time to release stress daily. Yoga, meditation, journaling and exercise are just a few examples of ways to relieve stress. I have applied The Sedona Method, on the spot in stressful situations where I couldn’t otherwise outwardly release stress, and it has helped me immensely.

If you feel like stress follows you wherever you go, it’s worth doing some soul searching to see how you may be attracting it in your life. Anything that happens outside of us, always reflects what is going on within us.

Regardless of how you choose to deal with your stress, make it a priority to do so. Your life and health depend on YOU.

A few of my upcoming posts and my book will be devoted to mindfulness and meditation, so stay tuned for a stress free life, and sign up for my emails if you haven’t already!

 

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Share ways you deal with stress in the comments below!

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