Written by Dr. Lucas Szczepanik B.Sc., D.C.
Stress is a part of life that cannot be avoided. It is defined as the body’s reaction to physical, mental, and emotional stimuli. These stimuli can be pressures from deadlines at work, the need to pay rent or bills, problems with friends and/or family, or getting ready for house guests on the long weekend. Other stimuli may be less apparent, such as encounters with large crowds, traffic jams, or starting a new job, but have the same effect on the body. There are those who handle stress well, having little effect on their health and well being, and those who loose complete control. For the latter the effects can include fatigue, chronic headaches, muscle tension, irritability, low self-esteem, changes in appetite, high blood pressure, mood swings, changes in sleep patterns, and gastrointestinal disorders such as stomach ulcers. Chronic stress can be a major contributor to major illnesses and will eventually wear out the body through a weakened immune system, nutritional deficiencies, and accelerated heart beat, just to name a few. In fact, some researchers estimate that stress contributes to as many as 80 percent of all major illnesses.
So what to do about it? You can’t quite your job and you can’t eliminate every person in your life because they cause you stress. Life would be too easy if that were the case. Whether your stress levels are high or mid-range, there are many options to help combat the effects of stress. The first is learning how to relax. Avoid using alcohol, tobacco, or comfort foods as this will actually increase the stress in your body. A simple technique involves tightening and relaxing the major muscle groups, one at a time. Start at one end of your body squeezing the muscles for 10-15 seconds and then relaxing them. From there you continue to your stomach, back, arms, shoulders, etc. Remember to concentrate and breathe deeply.
The second is proper diet and exercise. From last month we learned the importance of consistent exercise, rather it is a daily 30 minute walk or a vigorous weight routine three times a week. Equally important is the intake of whole, natural foods such as nuts/seeds, fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Try to avoid processed foods and all foods that create stress in the body, such as artificial sweeteners, carbonated soft drinks, chocolate, fried foods, junk food, sugar, white flower products, caffeine, and foods with lots of preservatives.
The last, and probably most difficult, is getting the proper amount of sleep. The less you get the more stress you will continue to feel. Get into a routine pattern of behavior before you go to sleep. Avoid watching T.V. in bed or any other stimuli at least 2 hours before going to bed. Sugar, caffeine, or any other foods before bedtime are forbidden as they continue to stimulate the brain and digestive system. Even exercise should not be performed 2-3 hours before going to bed. Make sure you take the time to unwind and relax before hitting the pillow.
Even if all of these are not helping there are therapies that have helped people manage their stress. Chiropractic care, therapeutic or relaxation massage, and acupuncture are just a few ways of seeking further relaxation. The thing to remember is that stress is manageable, and there are many others like yourself that have learned to deal with it. If someone else can do it, so can you.