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Stress: Friend or Foe – Stress signals a flight or fight response

Written by Jan Adler. Posted in Featured, Health & Wellness

Published on January 20, 2016 with No Comments

Stress occurs when we feel unable or inept at handling a situation we’ve experienced. Each of us has a different stress threshold. What may be perceived as a stressful event by one person may be viewed as a challenge by another.  Much depends on our past life experiences, genetic makeup, our age (mental and chronological), and if support systems or resources are available to us. Any change in our routine lifestyle can result in stress. Some examples of change would be: personal or loved one’s illness, change in employment status, divorce or separation, having to relocate or death of a loved one.

Stress is not always bad for the body. It signals a fight or flight response within us. We have the opportunity to handle the stressful incident to the best of our ability or run as fast as we can to get as far away from the stress initiator. When we’re feeling stressed our muscles tense, we breathe faster, our heart rate speeds up, our brain uses more oxygen and we can think faster. These body reactions are due to a stress hormone produced called epinephrine (adrenaline). Norepinephrine and cortisol are the next stress hormones that kick in to help us deal with the situation at hand.

Key factors affecting our response to a stressful event are the duration of it and whether we view the experience as a threat or a challenge. We may have no control over the duration of the stressor.  Our perception of whether the event is negative or tolerable will influence our response. Again, our life history, genetics, age and accessible resources play a large part in our perception of stress.

Stress occurring over a short period of time can even boost our immune system (strengthening our ability to be and stay healthy). Stress occurring over a long period of time (illness, divorce, death of a loved one)

can harm our immune response, impair our memory and possibly increase our anxiety level. Regardless of the duration of stress, some people are more prone to react more anxiously to a change in their routine lives. This population of people includes those suffering from anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. Their body chemistry causes them to react in a more anxious and overwhelmed manner.

Ways to impact our approach to unexpected and unwelcome change in our lives include:

  1. Seeking guidance from a good friend, pastor, support group or mental health organization.
  2. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is a wonderful organization. For more information call 219-769-4005.
  3. Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation causes stress hormones to overreact.
  4. Exercise regularly. One hundred and fifty minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week.

This equals two and one-half hours a week. Thirty minutes a day for five days.

Those thirty minutes can be divided into 10 or 15 minute sessions throughout the day.

  1. Healthy eating improves your ability to deal with stressful situations.

Carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals are important for overall health.

• Carbohydrates = pastas, rice, starchy vegetables (potatoes, all kinds), breads, cereals

• Proteins = beans (pinto, black, red, lentils), dairy products, meat, poultry, fish, nuts

Keep these helpful tips in mind.

• Don’t overdo caffeine drinks. They provide immediate energy but none later.  Caffeine may interfere with sleep if taken late in the afternoon or evening.

• Eat small frequent meals and snacks to keep blood sugar and energy level up.

Avoid or limit intake of sugary foods and sweets. Instead of candy or pop try these:

• Low fat yogurt

• Fruit with peanut butter

• Trail mix or nuts

• Baby carrots with hummus or yogurt

• String cheese

• Protein-rich nutrition bars

• Vegetable soup

Life is full of stressful times. How and if we can handle these events depends on many factors. Let’s do what we can to handle these times and improve our lives and our health in the New Year.

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