It is not possible to live in the world today without stress. Long gone are the days of blissful ignorance about what is happening across our nation and around the world. There really is no lack of things to think about. Whether they affect you directly or not, they can still be a source of concern.
One of the problems with having instant access to information is that it can have an instant effect on our life. Not just in the way it makes us feel, but in all the ways that events may affect the economy and/or our job. Wars and unrest in other countries, changes in foreign leadership, the economic strength or weakness of nations, and natural disasters are a few examples.
In our own country, we are facing a presidential election and a potential change in many political leaders, flooding and other natural disasters, a weak job market, and a volatile stock market, just to name a few.
But these stresses are quite obvious, although not always easy to manage, they are easy to recognize. Family matters, marriage, children, career/employment, preparing for retirement, education, debt, and relationships in general, all qualify as the big trouble spots that may need counselling or practices such as meditation to help you manage their effects on you.
Stress can have a devasting effect on your health. It is the highest risk factor for disease; higher than all other risk factors combined. Stress management has become a major part of the treatment plan for many doctors. Not only will stress make you fat, it is a ticking time bomb for heart disease, stroke, cancer, memory loss, brain disorders, and neurological disorders. Stress causes inflammation in your body, so no part of you is safe from its effects.
Aside from the major sources of stress listed above, there are also hidden sources of stress that you may be unaware of. Even if you feel that you have mitigated the most common stresses, some of these hidden ones may be holding you back from losing weight or improving your health. Especially if you are under a doctor’s care, trying to eat healthier and exercise, you may feel frustrated that your blood pressure or cholesterol is not improving. You may be stuck at a weight no matter how much you exercise.
The problem with stress is that it is not a tangible thing that we can see, measure, or weigh. Yet everyone faces stressful situations every day. Let’s just define stress as the resulting negative effect on an individual from a condition that is less than ideal. That’s a pretty broad definition, but the truth is that each person determines how much stress they feel over any given circumstance.
So, how can one go about their day and not feel stressed? We cannot live in a bubble, insulated from the world. While stress management techniques such breathing exercises and meditation can help with the obvious stressful situations like traffic jams, and conflicts at work, what else is there that causes feelings of angst, unhappiness, and unrest; and what can we do to eliminate them?
Instant access to information on what is happening around the world has created a need for people to feel constantly connected to the world around them. Whether it is through news feeds on the internet or social media, society is becoming obsessed with being connected. Continually being “in the know” keeps our minds engaged on things that have no real impact on what is happening in our life at this very moment. Even if you concentrate on doing something at work or at home, your subconscious mind is at work, mulling over everything you have seen or heard.
This can lead to a runaway mind that begins to contemplate a multitude of ‘what-if’ scenarios. For some, these thoughts become all consuming, and may lead to radical behavior or even a complete inability to make decisions. For most, however, the what-if scenarios stay in the subconscious, creating a low level feeling of anxiety that may barely be perceptible throughout everyday routine.
And what about social media? People are becoming so addicted to being on the many platforms available that they find it hard to be without it. The drive and the desire to be constantly reaching out on-line can interfere with daily activities; it can even take the place of face to face, one on one interaction. Instead of being a form of entertainment, a time filler, it is becoming a replacement for time well spent on other things.
When something becomes an addiction, it is a source of stress. If you don’t believe me, try giving up something you love for even a short time. Try going a whole day without a soda, coffee, cigarettes, your smart phone, internet, etc; it might surprise you how dependent you are on these things. It is the withdrawal that creates the stress, however subtle it may be. It is that stress that drives you back to your addiction.
Continuing on to less obvious forms of stress, let’s examine how lack of sleep, poor quality sleep, and irregular sleep causes stress. During the day, your body is very busy making sure that your heart keeps beating, your lungs keep breathing, and that your cells have the energy they need to keep you alive and well.
In the evening, as the light begins to fade outside, our body releases melatonin to relax us and prepare us for sleep. Your brain recognizes that sleep and nighttime are tied together. It is during the nighttime hours that the liver takes the time to repair itself and do some housekeeping.
The liver performs over 100 different functions, and is very busy all day long responding to the needs of the body. It handles every drop of blood that runs through your veins, removing toxins, adding nutrients, producing bile for digestion, and a multitude of other things. When you are awake, your cells are very demanding; they need lots of fuel and produce a lot of waste.
It is only when you are asleep that the liver has a chance to cleanup from the day, repair itself, and prepare for the next day. You have a 24-hour body clock that sets the time that all your organs perform similar self-care; this clock does not change. You also have a circadian clock that is supposed to keep your daily functions in rhythm with nature; it is set by the sunrise and sunset. Traditionally, we would hunt, farm, cook, and eat during the day due to our poor night vision. This is why the fading light of sunset signals to our brain that we need to be preparing for sleep, and your brain responds by releasing melatonin.
Your brain in particular needs 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night (ideally between 10pm and 6am). There are 4 distinct stages of sleep, and the brain needs to cycle through all four of them several times to function at its peak.
Without quality nighttime sleep, your body cannot function properly, which stresses every cell in your body.
Another cause of stress is poor digestion. The purpose of the digestive system is to break down the food that we eat so that the nutrients may be extracted and sent to the liver. Aside from determining where the nutrients are needed, the liver also uses digested food to create the fuel that our cells use.
Digestion is a complicated process that takes hours to complete. If food is not digested properly or completely, not only is the liver not able to utilize it, but it can cause serious health problems. Either way, the body is stressed.
In the same way, eating poor quality food (highly processed and devoid of nutrients) can have a similar effect on the body. Additionally, artificial ingredients create stress, as the body does not know how to handle them.
Fortunately, once these hidden stresses are recognized, they can be quickly eliminated. Reduce distraction of what is going on outside of your personal world. Be more present to your life and those around you. Social interaction is important, but start with the people who are physically there and have the greatest impact on you.
Know that you cannot plan for every scenario that may happen, and focus on that which you can control. Building a strong network of people close to you will help you to handle the stress when things do get rough. Concentrating on having a positive outlook will lighten the stress you feel pressing down on you.
Aim to get at least 7 hours of good quality sleep each night. You will find that you will be more mentally sharp and productive during the day. Being less stressed will promote better sleep, too.
Eat three meals a day of good quality food. Get a balance of meat, vegetables, and fruit; limit grains and dairy. Avoid processed foods, and foods high in sugar. Include a daily probiotic, and plenty of water. These things will eliminate gas, bloating, heartburn and acid reflux for most people, which is a clear sign that your digestion is improving.
Once you recognize the hidden stresses in your life and begin to eliminate them, you will find that being happy and healthy becomes easier.