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home : health : health June 24, 2016

3/11/2014 2:00:00 PM
Chronic stress is a health risk
By Marlys Underwood

You can eat all the broccoli and quinoa in the world and run 20 miles a week, but if you don't manage the stress in your life, you will never be completely healthy. Bad relationships, financial strain, screaming kids, work deadlines, sick parents, angry bosses, piles of laundry and unending errands contribute to chronic stress in our daily life. This is a major health risk, which also affects quality of life.

Some stress is a natural part of life and a necessary survival mechanism. It is derived from our "fight-or-flight" response and is meant to be a temporary condition best utilized to get us out of a troubling or dangerous situation. We are not meant to stay in this state for long periods of time. When exposed to a stressing situation, like a saber-toothed tiger in your path, or an irate boss, the body releases an onslaught of various chemicals, wreaking havoc on our systems.

You have probably heard of adrenalin, epinephrine, and cortisol. They are what to allow you to run like mad, lift cars off babies, and have that focused mental clarity. They mobilize energy from storage to muscle. They increase heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. They shut down non-essential processes like metabolism, digestion, reproduction, growth and immunity; not a normal state of being. Once the stressor is gone, our bodies relax and all those hormones get released into the bloodstream and excreted from the body. What do you think happens when the stressors never go away? Our bodies remain in an elevated state of response with all those extra hormones coursing around. This leads to weight gain, sleep problems, toxin storage, fatigue, depression, high blood-pressure, memory impairment, etc. This is why it is so crucial to allow your body and brain to relax and recover a normal hormonal balance.

So how can you do this? The first step is to reduce the stress in your life as much as possible. Perhaps you are taking on too much. Try to delegate, or better yet, even let things go. The world will not end if the floors don't get vacuumed. Practice saying "no." It's OK to not do everything for everyone every time. Look out for yourself. When you are healthy and balanced, you can contribute so much more.

Obviously, there are many things you just can't let go, and that's where stress management comes into play. You must find time every day to get some aerobic exercise, practice meditation, laugh, or take a bath. There are numerous management tools out there ranging from short, quiet, long, and loud to help alleviate stress and anxiety. Unwinding for a few minutes every day will go a long way to stress reduction and overall health.

Optimum wellness is a three-pronged approach. Nutrition and fitness are only two. It's that last prong, lifestyle, that tends to be the most resistant and will affect your health. Find what tools will work for you, or seek professional help and guidance and put those tools into play immediately. Your life just might depend on it.

Marlys Underwood is a health coach in Sisters.

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