Mind Over Matter, Use Your Brain to Ease Your Pain
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Stress and Modern Life

By Susan Bishop

Everywhere we go, we hear the word stress. Our lives are stressful, our jobs are stressful, the traffic is stressful - the list goes on and on. We even know that this thing called stress can be bad for us, stealing our joy in life and damaging our health. But what are we talking about? What is stress, what does it do to us, and what can we do about it?

Stress is not just "in your mind". Stress is a way your body reacts to something unpleasant. This "stressor" can be physical, emotional or psychological. Your body reacts in an innate, finely tuned manner that once helped primitive man to survive. Adrenaline and other hormones are released and your heart rate increases, your blood pressure rises, the blood is shunted away from your stomach and other internal organs and your liver releases sugar and triglycerides. If you had to run away from a saber-toothed tiger, this would be very helpful. You would get a burst of strength and energy and be ready to fight or run.

There aren't very many saber-tooth tigers running around anymore. Stress in modern day tends to involve events we just can't fight or run away from. The traffic is not going to get better just because your heart is pounding. And even worse, the traffic is still going to be there tomorrow. Our bodies were designed to handle stress that would happen, and then go away. We deal with different kinds of stress day after day, on and on.

So what does this do to us? This chronic stress can damage our minds and bodies in many ways. We all know that stress can damage our hearts and circulation. I'm sure you've felt the "butterflies" in your stomach as stress interferes with digestion. The sugar and triglycerides released can damage your blood vessels and may be a factor in developing Diabetes. But the news only gets worse from here. Chronic stress also causes your body to release steroids. These steroids can suppress your immune function and even your ability to remember and think clearly. Perhaps you can remember a time when things were not going your way and you kept getting every little cold that came around. Or maybe there was a time when you were trying to learn something new, and your brain just wouldn't hold the information. It might help to know you're not weak or dumb - you're stressed. Are you trying to lose weight? Stress can even help to make you fat. When your body releases those natural steroids, it causes fat to accumulate in your abdomen, giving you a pot belly. Maybe Santa isn't so jolly after all!

Now that you're stressed from worrying about stress, where do we go from here? Are we doomed? Is there no hope? Fortunately, there are many ways we can help ourselves cope with the modern onslaught of stress, tension and worry.

First, it might help to recognize the amount of stress you encounter in your normal, busy day. Consider all the things you do and don't do in a typical twenty four hours. Then consider what happens when something upsets your schedule. Cut yourself some slack. Give yourself time to recognize what is important to you personally, and what is not. Decide what is in your power to change, and what is not. Perhaps you can release old obligations or delegate responsibility. Make room in your precious hours for whatever brings you the most joy. Manage your life, honoring your values and your limitations.

Second, take care of yourself. Physical activity and exercise are proven stress busters. Eating a nutritious, balanced diet helps your body to stay healthy and manage stress. Sleep is essential. Most of us are seriously sleep deprived. If you have to drag yourself out of bed in the morning, or frequently feel tired during the day, you are probably not getting enough sleep.

Finally, perhaps most importantly, learn to relax. This is easier said than done. Some people do well with meditation. Others enjoy a good massage. I find that hypnosis and self hypnosis are extremely effective in learning how to release stress. Since hypnosis is relaxed concentration, by definition you are free from stress when in hypnosis. Basically, the state of trance is the physiological opposite of stress. In trance, your heart rate slows, your blood pressure drops and your muscles unclench. You can learn to unwind the cycle of today's stress piled on top of yesterday's tension. By learning self hynosis, people regularly learn how to control blood pressure, release tension and reach a deep level of peace, comfort and relaxation whenever they choose. When you relax, you not only get to enjoy life more, but you also spare yourself the physical, mental and emotional damage that stress can cause. So, all together now, take a big, deep breath, and let's just relax!