Stress, as defined by Dr. Hans Selye, the father of the stress theory, is “the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it”. The “demand” can be a threat, a challenge, or any kind of change that requires the body to adapt. The response is automatic and immediate. Stress can be good (called “eustress”) when it helps us perform better, or it can be bad (“distress”) when it causes upset or makes us sick.
It is important to note that most of the stress that most of us have is actually self-generated. This is a paradox because so many people think of external stressors when they are upset (It’s the weather, the boss, the children, the spouse, the stock market). Recognizing that we create most of our own upsets, however, is the important first step in dealing with them.
The common symptoms of stress include:Physical: fatigue, headaches, insomnia, muscle aches/stiffness (especially neck, shoulders and low back), heart palpitations, chest pains, abdominal cramps, nausea, acid reflux, trembling, cold extremities, flushing or sweating and frequent colds/sinusitis, allergies, weight gain or loss.
Mental: decrease in concentration and memory, indecisiveness, mind racing or going blank, confusion and loss of humor.
Emotional: anxiety, nervousness, depression, anger, frustration, worry, fear, irritability, impatience and short temper.
Behavioral: pacing, fidgeting, nervous habits, increased eating, smoking, drinking, crying, yelling, swearing, blaming and even throwing things or hitting.
The causes of stress (especially on the job) can be broken down into six stressor categories. Physical environment: noise, bright lights, heat or cold, confined spaces, electromagnetic fields, chemical sensitivities, air quality, poor posture and ergonomics, lack of exercise, improper breathing, and not enough sleep.
Diet: junk food, caffeine, sugar, too much food, not enough food, eating late at night, food allergies, preservatives, food additives.
Social: rudeness, bossiness, aggressiveness, negative talk, over-analyzing, criticism, rigid thinking, taking things personally, perfectionist, workaholic, pleaser.
Organizational: rules, regulations, “red tape”, deadlines, not enough information to perform a task, misunderstandings, interference with a task, waiting for data, unreal expectations.
Major life events: lost job, new job, promotion, death of a loved one, marriage/divorce, and legal events.
Daily hassles: commuting, misplaced keys, mechanical breakdowns, poor communication skills.
The effects of the above are cumulative. And the response by the body will vary from person to person. All of us experience stress, but the stress response by the body is designed to be short and immediate. The classic example is the saber tooth tiger chasing a person. You either escape and are free or you are lunch. These days we stay in the “Alarm stage”, which this example describes, for too long. During this stage our bodies go though tremendous chemical and nervous system changes in fractions of a second. When this situation persists too long we will enter the second stage called ” Resistance”. Here our adrenal glands and nervous systems adapt and cope. You may have some mild symptoms but you are not down and out yet. The third stage “Exhaustion” is reached when your body can no longer cope. This is where severe symptoms are felt and actual disease processes begin to manifest. This may take months or years to truly develop.
The Western medicine approach is to treat the symptoms as they become apparent. But this does nothing to address the underlying mechanisms that got you in such a mess in the first place. The media today is full of symptomatic treatments for the effects of stress. From a global view point Americans suffer from more headaches, and gastrointestinal symptoms (heartburn, acid reflux, constipation, etc.) than other cultures and countries. Enter Alternative medicine, with the research being done today many of the old folk remedies are being validated and improved. Also, research is developing new products and natural compounds that do achieve results in healing or more exactly, assist in your own recuperative powers. In fact, more Americans visit naturopaths and chiropractors more often than family doctors (Journal of the American Medical Association). The majority of the patients I see are suffering from stress regardless of their presenting symptoms or diagnosis. I play the role of detective to get to the underlying causes and assist the body in fixing them.
For professional help, I recommend you seek out a competent chiropractor, massage therapist, naturopath, or acupuncturist. As a chiropractor I look at the nervous system, the biochemistry and personality of my patients and develop a customized approach that addresses the underlying causes. In my tool bag of remedies I use diet, nutrition, chiropractic, cranial therapy, exercise, allergy elimination methods and numerous other approaches that have been proven effective. But before you do there are many things you can do, to help yourself save time and money.
Here is a checklist that can reduce your stress at home at work or in life in general. Improve your diet, avoid too much sugar, fats, preservatives, caffeine, eat 3-5 meals a day, eat slowly and chew you food once for each tooth (32 times). Drink good quality water and plenty of it. Breath properly, this is so over looked it’s ridiculous. I am forever teaching patients how to breathe from the diaphragm, not with you shoulders (look in the mirror and see how you breath). If you’re tired in the morning go to sleep earlier. Stretch every day, have you ever seen an animal that didn’t stretch after resting? Three times a week perform some form of exercise. A combination of strenghtening and aerobics is best. (A short walk is a good start). Choose some activity that you like or you’ll never stay with it. If you work at a computer all day be sure to perform some eye, wrist, shoulder/arm exercises while you’re working. You’ll lessen fatigue and reduce mistakes if you do. Schedule some leisure time or play like you use to when you were young each week. Identify the problem areas in your life and write a plan to handle them with a time line. This may include confronting your boss and clearing up some misunderstanding. It could also mean changing your workstation to be more relaxing or ergonomically correct. Ask for help in what ever you’re up against. Basically communicating to those around you in a way that supports them and your self will solve most social difficulties. Consider changing your point of view. If you can see things from your bosses or employee’s perspective, conflict and confusion will disperse. And above all maintain you sense of humor and just don’t take life so seriously.