As we go about our everyday lives, we will all encounter stress to one degree or another. The types and levels of stress are almost endless; the level of stress endured by a stay-at-home mother with three small children is altogether different than that faced by a business executive making decisions that will affect an entire corporation. An educator working in a large inner city school with crowded classrooms is experiencing a different type of stress than a soldier serving a tour of duty in a war zone. With all the different varieties of stress that we encounter, how is our physical and mental health being affected? We are all genetically hard-wired with the “fight or flight” response that helped our ancestors survive. Except that now, we usually don’t have the option of either fighting or fleeing. We have to cope and endure.
Some individuals can handle and use stress to their advantage, as the other motivator that enables them to complete tasks on time or strive for excellence in an activity. All too often, though, stress can have a negative impact on our health and our ability to function in daily living. Conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and depression can worsen with exposure to prolonged stress. The hormone cortisol can rise to high levels during continuous stress. This, in turn, will result in higher levels of fat being deposited in the abdomen, leading to the significant health risks associated with morbid obesity.
In individuals with both type I and type II diabetes, stress can result in higher blood glucose levels. The glucose would normally be released into the cells to use as extra energy – except that insulin may not be available to let this happen. Unfortunately, many people with diabetes, will cope with their stress by over-eating, exercising less or none at all, and drinking alcohol. Physical stress brought on by disease or injury, can also raise blood glucose levels. Many people with morbid obesity also have diabetes, making prolonged periods of stress much more dangerous. This can lead to multiple health concerns.
All of us may feel depressed from time to time, but it’s when the depression lasts for prolonged periods of time in individuals who are already susceptible, that we become concerned. If the depression was brought about by our reaction to a stressful event or situation that is ongoing, our physical health might suffer as a result. Once again, the “stress hormone” cortisol, can become elevated and others such as serotonin and dopamine can become reduced. The body’s natural stress-response mechanism becomes compromised. Many individuals will neglect exercise, indulge in unhealthy eating and drinking habits, and have erratic sleep patterns.
So how do we cope with stress so that our health doesn’t suffer? At least five times a week we should engage in moderate exercise, such as walking. Neurotransmitters such as endorphins can be stimulated by exercise, and these can boost your mood and alleviate stress. Maintain healthy eating habits and avoid alcohol, since it can suppress feelings. Stay involved in activities that keep you busy with other people, feelings of isolation can aggravate stress. Lastly, in addition to being involved with others, make sure you make time for yourself, pursuing hobbies and activities that will challenge you and give you goals to strive for. And of course, speak to your chiropractor to discover how s/he can help you release existing tension in your body.