For people living in countries torn apart by war, facing death and hunger almost daily, our world seems like an unattainable dream, like heaven. Indeed, we are truly blessed to be living it the United States of America at this very time.
It is ironic, then, that all too many of us see ourselves as constantly under pressure. Instead of feeling peace and joy, we are experiencing stress much of the time. That state of stress is evident in our behavior and in our appearance. Our faces have lost their glow and are lined and drawn, our eyes lack the sparkle they once had, and our bodies have become obese or too thin. We find ourselves rushing through the day with little time to relax and enjoy the beauty around us. The demands on our lives are real and in many cases irreversible. We must then step back and find ways to view them differently and realize that it is up to each person to adapt and to achieve peace within the vortex of life.
We must step back and find ways to view them differently and realize that it is up to each person to adapt and to achieve peace within the vortex of life.
Let’s take a minute to determine exactly what stress is. In our prehistoric relatives, stress was a life-saving gift. When one of them was in immediate physical danger, the “fight or flight” mechanisms were triggered and would, hopefully, save his life. Even today those mechanisms can be amazing. When approached by a speeding car our natural alarm system is set in motion. Our bodies go on alert through a combination of nerve and hormonal changes. An adrenaline surge increases our heart rate and blood pressure, giving us a burst of energy, while cortisol, the primary stress hormone, releases glucose into the blood stream to help the brain function and to release substances that repair damaged tissue. Other non-essential bodily functions, like the immune system, the digestive system, the reproductive system and the growth system are temporarily shut down. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of the brain that control mood, motivation, and fear.
Ideally, when the danger has passed, the body’s alarm system shuts down and it returns to normal. Unfortunately, in our complex society our perceived dangers are never over, so the protectors do not turn off. The chronic stress we remain in wreaks havoc on our bodies and on our minds.
I recently read an interesting article by staff writers at the Mayo Clinic about the damage chronic stress can do to your body and the ways to best “destress” or at least keep stress under control. Among the areas of concern were: depression, digestive disorders, headaches, heart disease, sleep disorders, weight gain or loss, abuse of alcohol and/or drugs (including tobacco) and memory and concentration impairment.
The article then gave strategies for alleviating stress. A few of my favorite and some mentioned in the Mayo article are: a healthy diet, exercise, relaxation—yoga, deep breathing and/or meditation, hobbies, reading, music, good connections with other people on many different levels of life, a sense of humor, and spiritual involvement. If necessary seek a professional counselor. Applying any of these techniques will generally reward you with a richer, fuller, less stress-filled life.
And always remember to smile. You will feel better, those around you will feel better, and you will certainly look better as a smile is an instant face lift. Feel free to contact me. I love to hear your questions or comments.