(Below is the written text of track #1)
Congratulations! You have decided to take action to combat stress. You’ve heard about stress on TV, read about it in the newspaper and you know that you feel stress all too often. Just hearing the word itself can cause discomfort. Stress has always existed but in today’s world it’s more prevalent. Fortunately, we’re learning how to deal with it more effectively.
In the next few minutes I am going to talk with you specifically about how you can minimize the effects of stress and add to the quality of your life. Knowing how to effectively manage stress can greatly enhance your overall health and well-being.
First it is important to think about what stress is, how it affects you and where it comes from. There is good news and there is bad news. First I’ll share with you the bad news. Stress can be very harmful to us. It can cause major problems for our emotional and physical health. The good news is that there are things you can do about stress that will minimize its negative impact and improve the quality of your life.
Here are some surprising facts about stress in America: It is the 6th leading cause of death; The majority of visits to a doctor are related to stress; Stress accounts for over one billion dollars in medical costs per year and over $300 billion per year of industry costs. Who do you think these expenses are passed on to? That’s right- you & I. Stress is costly for all of us physically, emotionally and financially.
What is stress? Webster’s Dictionary defines stress as “A physical, chemical or emotional factor in disease causation”. A definition that may be more helpful for our purposes is this: “Emotional or other factors that cause bodily or mental tension and tend to alter an existing equilibrium”. Think about stress as anything that upsets your natural balance, whether it is your emotional balance, your mental balance, your physiological balance, or your financial balance.
How does stress affect us? There is a definite connection between your emotional stress and your physical health. The ways our body reacts to stress include increased heart rate and blood pressure, quick and shallow breathing, tense muscles and dry mouth. Furthermore, our digestion process is slowed and our immune response decreases. This makes us more susceptible to becoming ill. There are other physiological reactions to stress as well. These may include tightness of neck and shoulder muscles, headaches or stomachaches.
Stress may also cause conflicts between you and your family or your friends. You may tend to be short-tempered and impatient. Stress may also decrease your productivity and efficiency at work and at home. When you are preoccupied with your worries, you are distracted and unfocused. This may lead to accidents, forgotten appointments or unfulfilled responsibilities.
Stress may have results as mild as a headache or as severe as a heart attack. One study involved those who lead stressful lives and who had also suffered heart attacks. Those who did not learn to combat stress had 2 to 3 times greater risk of having a second heart attack. Once again, that’s the bad news. Now let’s look at this from the “good news” perspective. Those who learned to deal with stress more effectively had 2 to 3 times less chance of a repeat heart attack. Which group would you care to join?
It’s easy to see how stress can negatively impact your health and general well being. These physiological changes are triggered by our body’s “stress response”. This is often called the “fight or flight” response and it developed in human beings millions of years ago. This response evolved in reaction to perceived danger to our safety. It is designed to help us deal with an acute threat. In the days of the cave man if a saber toothed tiger was standing outside of the cave there were two choices- fight it off or run like heck! Therefore the “fight or flight” label is appropriate. When this threat is perceived our body automatically kicks into the danger mode- our heart rate increases, our breathing becomes quick and shallow; chemicals flood the bloodstream to give us strength and energy.
The problem is that we are dealing with stress today that is chronic versus acute. Modern stress is related to things such as personal relationships, politics on the job, difficulty with in-laws or long-term medical concerns. Our body initiates the acute stress remedy- the fight or flight response and we do not need this type of response. If the chronic stress continues to activate the stress response we risk burning out our system and we suffer the consequences.
Imagine driving your car at 60 miles per hour while in first gear- eventually your engine would burn out due to the stress and strain. This is comparable to the acute stress response being used for chronic problems. Therefore we have to learn to cool down our reaction to stress and thereby be less vulnerable to physical and emotional overloads.
Some people respond to stress differently than others. You know some people who are calm and collected when something unexpected or disappointing occurs. Others become excited or hysterical. The important thing to remember is that it is not the event itself but how we respond to it that is potentially harmful. We can train ourselves to respond more calmly and productively to these situations.
Where does stress come from? It originates from a variety of sources including family, employment, finances, health problems, friends and internal expectations and pressures. Today, more than ever, we are asked to do more at our job with fewer resources. We face time pressure at work, as well as at home, as we try to rush to complete all of our obligations. Marital conflict, divorce or difficult to manage children are also common sources of stress. These are only some of the possibilities. The true sources of stress are limitless. Just about anything that you allow to upset you can be stressful.
How do you know when you’re “stressed out”? This is a phrase we often hear today, “I’m stressed out”. There can be numerous warning signs of stress. It’s not possible to cover all of these, however, lets review some of them. Increased physical ailments- this may include headaches, stomachaches, tense shoulder and neck muscles or any other physical problem. Sleeping or eating disturbances are other signs of stress. Some people sleep excessively or others may suffer from insomnia. Some experience a loss of appetite and lose weight. Others eat excessively and gain weight. Other possible signs of stress may include frequent relationship problems, extreme anxiety, decreased sexual drive, preoccupation with one problem and the loss of interest in activities you usually find pleasurable. You may experience feelings of loss of control or constant worry, and feelings of anger or depression. All of these are possible signs that stress is having a serious impact on your life.
But wait a minute! Don’t give up! There’s more good news.
What can we do about stress? There are numerous solutions to dealing with stress and the best approach is one that is comprehensive. Relaxation techniques are useful and important, but these alone may not be sufficient. I’d like to tell you about some of the other methods so you can be aware of these and practice them in addition to the relaxation technique included in this recording. Other solutions to dealing with stress include a healthy diet. One that is low in fat and cholesterol. I would suggest you consult the guidelines of the American Heart Association or a registered dietician to learn more specifically about dietary recommendations.
It’s recommended that you eliminate the use of tobacco products as the ill effects have been well documented. You should also eliminate, or carefully limit, the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
Regular medical check-ups and following your physician’s advice is important. Getting enough rest can be helpful also.
Managing your time wisely and being assertive with others is significant. We often make the mistake of trying to do too much in too little time and feel we have failed when we are not successful in meeting all of our goals. If we set our standards more realistically, we will feel satisfied and not disappoint others or ourselves.
Developing support systems is very important in combating stress. Having friends and family that we can talk to and share your feelings with is quite helpful.
Humor is also important in dealing with stress. If you allow yourself to laugh and look for the humorous things in life, it not only makes your life happier, but healthier. Enjoy movies or TV shows that make you laugh or books or other people that make you laugh. Studies have shown that those who open their lives to humor have physiological changes that increase the immune response and lower your risk of illness. Laughing lowers our blood pressure, shuts off the flow of stress hormones and increases the body’s ability to use oxygen. It also triggers the flow of beta-endorphins, which gives us a natural feeling of euphoria. They say that children laugh an average of 400 times per day. Adults laugh only 15 times per day. Somehow we lose 385 laughs per day when we grow up and that’s not funny! So, take every opportunity to laugh- it’s good for you.
Exercise is extremely important in not only making you feel better emotionally, but also increasing the ability of the bodily systems to be able to withstand stress and become stronger.
Many people also find spiritual support helpful. Whether it be through your church or synagogue, or through your own spiritual belief, it can be important in relieving stress.
Let’s talk about relaxation techniques. The importance of these techniques is well known. Exercises using guided imagery, yoga, meditation and deep breathing are helpful. You will have to practice these methods to become proficient. For example, if you utilize relaxation techniques and guided imagery, such as the one on this recording, the more you practice the technique, the more effective it will be.
Let’s briefly review some of the suggestions to be included in a well-rounded program of stress management:
1) A healthy diet
2) Eliminate the use of tobacco and alcohol products
3) Get regular medical checkups and follow the advice of your physician
4) Get plenty of rest
5) Manage your time wisely
6) Be assertive with others and be careful not to over commit yourself
7) Develop support systems with others you can talk to and share your feelings with
8) Use humor to enjoy life
9) Develop and participate in a regular exercise program
10) Find support and comfort through your religious or spiritual beliefs
11) Make use of relaxation techniques
The most important thing to remember about stress is that it is not necessarily the stressor itself that is significant, but the way you respond to it. Often we can completely avoid situations or events that are stressful. When this is not possible, we can change some of the circumstances or conditions to make them less stressful. The more you learn how to respond to stress in a positive manner, the better you can manage it and the less negative impact it will have on your life. It is clear that stress causes numerous problems and decreases the quality of your life if it is not managed properly. On the other hand, if stress is managed properly and effectively, you can be healthier, happier, and more fulfilled in your life.