Detritional Effects of Stress – How Does Stress Affect Physical Health?

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Stress is often an overused term, but for good reason. The body’;s response to perceived stressors can be life altering. For those who do not have a strong system to manage those responses, stress can rule behavior. It sets up a situation where one changes the path of least resistance as a way of coping.

Many people lead unhealthy lives, although they consciously know and understand the choices that would be more beneficial and healthy. Much of this irony is due to having a poorly managed stress response. When under stress, and faced with the heightened anxiety it brings, people will not choose to do things that deem unpleant, uncomfortable or challenging. Familiar behaviors are easier to fall back on than trying to implement a new way of doing things. Healthy living choices become, just another "thing" to do, on an all ready overfull list.

Sadly, this kind of poor stress management, fuels the obsesity epidemic. The hectic pace at which people choose to live, combined with poor to no stress management techniques, can bring on a "just keeping my head above the water," mentality. When barely staying afloat psychologically, who wants to weigh themselves down with new challenging tasks? The answer is no one. Even smart, otherwise perceptive, individuals can fall victim to this insidious problem.

What a person perceives as stressful and how they respond to that, "stress" is very individual. There is a genetic, environmental, and personality component that creates ones stress response. This can be altered by implementing behavioral procedures designed to help you recognize and neutralize your common stress triggers.

Today, feeling overloaded, anxious and disconnected are common side effects of fast-paced living, but they do not have to be. Small alterations in how you choose to respond in trigger situations can reduce, if not eliminate those nagging feelings that send many people to the doctor in search of "what’;s wrong with me?"

The answer found at many doctor visits is the dreaded, "Perhaps you are under too much stress." To which most will say, "That’;s impossible, I am doing just fine." The problem is that while someone may be managing physically, he or she may be falsifying psychologically. This type of "system overload" manifests itself in physical symptoms. It is the body’;s way of saying, slow down and take better care of me! However, few listen. Instead, they seek medication to allow them to keep going at breakneck speed, while being able to ignore their body’;s pleas for slowing down.

Not addressing the root cause of these symptoms is simply putting a Band Aid on a gaping wound. It will never heal until you address what is causing the psychological overload in the first place. In most cases, it is the lack of ability to properly predict and handle the stress response. Stress begins with a thought or event that creates an emotional response. This triggers a physiological reaction that begins the fight or flight response. Understanding this process can lead to predictability, and predictability is at the heart of learning to reduce your emotional response to pressures.

Developing awareness during angry moments and times that you grow irritated, upset, or impatient is important. Observing what happens, without passing judgment, can help to shift your perspective. During those instances, begin to ask yourself, "How did I get here?"

Immediately recognizing and acknowledging the source of your upset (the trigger) activates the thinking part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex), which to this point has only been reacting (a hindbrain function). This simple step allows you to look at the situation from a renewed perspective.

You can then insert mindfulness techniques as you slow your breathing. When you purposefully slow your breathing, and become mindful of your body, your heart rate will naturally begin to return to normal as well. Start by doing a quick body check, a simple awareness exercise, starting at your toes, and working your way up to the neck and shoulders. Bring awareness into each area; feel your toes in your shoes, flex and relax. Then move up to your calves, and so on.

Relax your shoulders and release the tension in your neck as you take a full deep breath, in through your nose and out through your mouth. This type of exercise will interrupt the stress cycle that has begun in the body. It is a type of mental and physical conditioning designed to help establish a more balanced response to similar situations.

When stable, you are much more likely to do the healthy behaviors that you know would be good for you. Recognizing, acknowledging, and altering behavior on a regular basis, can rewire your mental pathways creating a new default pattern. It can help you cultivate more peace of mind and will make living the healthy lifestyle you have been thinking about, not only more accessible, but also more sustainable.