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Dr Russ Blog - When you're a mess from stress...
When you're a mess from stress...
Created on 6/6/2008

Stress - we hear about it all the time, and it seems everyone has it. Whether it's job stress, health issues, transporting the kids all over town, running a household, financial worries, or simply trying to make sense of an often crazy world, the sources of stress are numerous and yet unique to each individual. So, yes, everyone does have stress in their lives. What does that mean with respect to our health and wellbeing?

Experts define stress in many ways. Perhaps that briefest and clearest definition is "change." Change - it's one of the few things we can all count on! Some changes are good, some are challenging at best, and some are clearly negative, but any form of change impacts our equilibrium and requires an active response to maintain a healthy balance.

Some forms of stress can actually be good for us. Acute stress, perhaps from an upcoming work deadline, can motivate us to put forth our best effort and create a terrific product. But what if we have a deadline every hour, or every day, or every week? What if we want to create a positive change in our work place or school yet have no authority to do so? What if we are ill and not getting better as quickly as we thought we would? It's the chronic, unrelenting daily stress that has the potential to harm us if not managed well.

You might ask, "Why bother? Everyone has stress - it's just part of life." The problem is that unattended or inadequately managed stress can undermine our health in serious ways, and not just our emotional or spiritual health, but that of our physical bodies as well. 

Chronic, unrelenting stress has the potential to impact our bodies in at least 5 negative ways:
1) Lessens the amount and restorative nature of sleep
2) Worsens mood
3) Contributes to weight gain
4) Impairs immunity (stress doesn't cause illness, but it may impact proper functioning of the immune system)
5) Increases inflammation (this is important in many ways, not the least of which is that inflammation plays a major role in the development of cardiovascular disease)

Thus, stress management takes on added importance as a way to keep our whole selves well, and should be considered a mandatory part of any wellness initiative alongside eating well, exercising, and getting adequate sleep.

Some of us make unhealthy choices regarding stress management - we over-indulge in alcohol, engage in risky behaviors, or bury ourselves in work. Obviously, these activities do not represent effective stress management.

So what are good stress management options? Exercise is perhaps the single best stress buster we know of. Laughter works, as does setting aside time each week to be with friends and loved ones. Creating some quiet time to be alone is likewise important. Meditation, yoga, music, attending religious services, reading, being outdoors, massage therapy, journaling... the list of viable (and healthy) options is quite long. The key is to offer ourselves the kindness to explore which of the appropriate stress management techniques might be effective and fun for us, and then to use them - often.

Another technique that can be helpful is breath work. You can practice one such breathing technique with me on the Harris Teeter web site under yourwellness videos.

I hope you will better care for your self by committing to a healthy stress management program. It's an important part of any effective wellness program, and in most instances the tools are already within our grasp. We simply need to give ourselves the gift of time. 

Be well.
Dr. Russ

** Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. **

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