How does stress affect your health?
What is stress?
Stress is basically anything that causes you physical or mental strain. The amount of stress that is generated by any condition also depends on how you react to that situation.
Not all stress is bad. In fact every human being needs a little stress in their lives to stimulate them to e.g. meet a deadline. Without a little stress you’d go out of your mind with boredom. The problem comes when you have too much stress bombarding you. The key to stress management is achieving a balance.
How does stress affect health?
Remember that stress affects your health negatively if it is continuous over a long period of time (i.e. chronic). Almost half of all adults suffer from effects of prolonged stress.
These range from mild to severe.
Side effects of stress include:
- change in appetite and gastrointestinal disturbances
- headaches and memory loss
- lowered sex drive
- shallow breathing
- high blood pressure
- severe emotional disturbances
Many major illnesses like diabetes, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, heart disease and skin disorders have stress as a major contributing factor.
Sometimes the stressed out body starts attacking itself contributing to disorders like multiple sclerosis, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
The symptoms of stress are brought about by 2 main hormones in the body
- cortisol and
These bring about what is known as the “flight or fight” response which helps us survive when faced with danger.
Effects of cortisol and adrenaline
- The body uses up stored nutrients faster
- The body cannot absorb nutrients from the food you eat so there is a shortage of vitamins necessary for proper functioning of the body especially the nervous system.
- The body diverts from producing progesterone and other sex hormones to producing cortisol. This explains why you feel tired and uninterested in sex when you’re under stress.
Where do I start?
- Try and identify stress factors in your life and off-load those you can do without. This may require some soul-searching and honesty on your part.
- Do you know how to say “No!”? Taking on added responsibilities which you can’t really cope with especially when they’re pushed on you by other people, can be frustrating. Learn to say “No” gently, respectfully and without apology.
- Find out the situations you encounter every day that stress you. If you can avoid them, great! If you can’t, try adjusting your routine e.g. listening to a favorite cd on your daily commute.
- It’s in the mind! One person’s stress may be another’s favorite recreational activity. The difference is in the way you think. Approach every situation positively. A “can do” attitude can go a long way.
- Express yourself. Don’t bottle up your emotions. Try talking things over with a counsellor at your church, a close friend (that’s not a part of that particular situation) or someone you can trust to give you sound unbiased advice. Don’t be afraid to cry.
- Laugh! Try to see the funny side of things. Laughter can often de-fuse a sticky situation and bring down tension. Laughter is like medicine.
- Prayer and meditation – this is a source of relief for many people. Praying to and committing everything into the care of your heavenly Father can bring a tremendous sense of relief and peace. Reading from the bible can also have a very soothing effect.
- Supplements :
- Take a good multivitamin daily especially one high in B-vitamins which are good for the stressed-out.
- Take a green Superfood daily to help cleanse your body and increase your immunity (ability to fight disease). It contains high chlorophyll foods which are a very good source of essential nutrients.
- Natural progesterone cream may also help if you’re having menopausal symptoms.
- Diet - watch what you put in your mouth.
- Avoid processed food e.g. junk food, chocolate, soft drinks, artificial sweetener, fried food, pork and sugar.
- Avoid caffeine (disrupts sleep), tobacco and alcohol.
- Eat lots of high fiber foods like bran, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. (Now, where have you heard that before?)
- Aromatherapy – scent can have a very strong influence on our emotions. Aromatherapy involves using essential oil to stimulate your sense of smell and elicit certain feelings in the body. Some of these essential oils may help to relax you
Put 10-20 drops of one of these in your bath and soak for 20 minutes. Alternatively, they can be incorporated into a calming and restorative massage. Read Techniques of massage.
- Relaxation techniques- learn how to relax no matter where you are .
- Time management – learn how to manage your time more effectively.
- Avoid activities and relationships that sap your time and energy without yielding useful results e.g. spending time with your family-positive use of time, sitting in front of the television soaking up useless “information” negative use of time!
- Planning -set goals for what you want to achieve in the areas of
- your family
- your work
- your health
- your faith & spirituality
(not necessarily in that order!)
Achieving a balance in these key areas is vital in stress management. Map out the steps you’ll need to take to achieve these goals.
- Learn to delegate. You can’t do everything!
- Take up a new hobby or revive an old one to help you let off steam.
- Rest & relaxation - as a woman you will often spend a lot of time giving of yourself to others, whether in the form of time, energy or in other ways. This can leave you drained.Take time to pamper yourself once in a while. Do your hair or your nails. Go to the gym. Go out with friends. Have a massage.
Take time to re-energize – you deserve it!
Being relaxed is essential for your general wellbeing. It increases energy levels, helps to lower blood pressure and relieve frequent headaches. It can also help you to cope better with problems of everyday life whether at home or at work. It also helps you to have a more positive attitude when dealing with menopausal symptoms.
Deep muscle relaxation
This popular method of relaxation takes a little time to learn but the benefits are worth it.
- Find a peaceful spot.
- Lie on your back or sit in a comfortable chair.
- Tense your right hand and release it. Imagine that your hand is heavy and warm. Do the same with your forearm, upper arm and shoulder all on the right. Move on to your right foot, lower and upper leg. Repeat the same process on the other side of your body starting with your left hand. Now take a few seconds to appreciate the feeling of being relaxed.
- Relax the musclesaround your hips, moving up to your abdomen and chest like a wave.
- Let the same wave of relaxation flow to your shoulders, up your neck to your jaw and face. Tense the muscles around your eyes and forehead and then release them. Imagine your forehead being smooth and untroubled.
You should do this twice a day for about 15 minutes. For the time-challenged even 5 minutes can be beneficial.
If you are comfortable with deep muscle relaxation, then you can move on to deep mental relaxation.
Deep mental relaxation
This is a kind of meditation where you try to separate your thoughts from what’s happening in your body. It relieves stress, tension and anxiety.
- Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.
- Lie down or sit in a comfortable chair.
- Close your eyes and breathe deeply.
- Allow your thoughts to roam. Stop recurring thoughts by saying ‘no’ to them under your breath until they disappear.
- Visualize a calming picture in your mind clear blue sky, leaves dropping from a tree and drifting in the wind, a calm blue sea, anything you find relaxing. Blue is a soothing colour so use as much of it as you can in your imagery.
- Make sure your breathing is slow and natural.
- You may like to repeat a calming word to yourself like ‘peace’ or ‘calm’.
- Keep the muscles of your face relaxed.
Once you are comfortable with both deep muscle and deep mental relaxation, you can do them both twice a day.
Most people don’t know how to breathe properly, you may be one of them.
Stand in front of a mirror. Does your tummy move when you breathe in? If it doesn’t you may be using only about 1/3 of your lung’s total capacity. This means you’re depriving your body of oxygen.
Stop now. Take a deep breath with your whole chest and abdomen. Experience the difference and enjoy the burst of extra oxygen you’ve just given your body.
Relieve anxiety without medication- The all-natural stress buster
According to research from Arizona State University moderate to vigorous exercise beat out yoga, stretching, meditation and talk therapy when it came to relieving anxiety and reducing stress. Apparently, burning about 850 Calories a week gave the best results. Walking briskly for about 30 minutes or jogging for 15 minutes daily can achieve this. This is great news for people like me.
I love walking. I’ve been doing it for decades. I don’t have to learn it, or worry if I’m doing it right. I just put on some comfortable clothes and my trainers and go. Even though I’m trying to lose weight, that’s not my main reason for walking (burning the calories is a bonus, though, I cannot lie!). When I’m done I feel calmer, happier and more loving towards my family and less likely to be irritated by little things. I have a sense of purpose and achievement. When I can’t squeeze in a walk I feel incomplete, like something’s missing from my day. I think I may have become a compulsive walker and I don’t want to be cured.
Massage techniques and aromatherapy
There are various techniques of massage that have been used since ancient times to heal the body and relieve stress. It can be very useful in this age of long commutes and busy lifestyles. It can also be used to treat various ailments such as sinusitis, headaches, insomnia and high blood pressure. Massage can be combined with acupuncture, reflexology and aromatherapy.
Types of massage
There are 4 basic techniques of massage:
- drumming (percussion, tapotement
- pressure (friction)
- stroking (effleurage)
- kneading (perissage)
This is one of the common techniques of massage. It is done with the sides of the hand making quick, light chopping movements on the body. This technique is used on areas where there’s a lot of flesh e.g. the buttocks and shoulders.
This is done in a slow, deliberate way using both hands together. For light pressure, the palms of the hand or the tips of the finger are used. For firmer pressure the knuckles or thumbs can be used.
This is one of the less common techniques of massage. It is usually used for athletes and dancers who often damage their tendons and ligaments. This type of massage stimulates blood flow easing movement. Is should not be used where there is bruising or any other injury.
This is also useful for athletes who may have an accumulation of toxins such as lactic acid in their muscles. A kneading action of grasping and squeezing the flesh is used. This stimulates blood flow to the region and helps in relaxation of muscles. Kneading is mainly used around the waist and stomach.
These techniques of massage can be used alone or in combination to achieve maximum effect.
The session can last from 20 minutes to 1 hour. It should be done on a firm comfortable table e.g. a massage table.
Aromatherapy can be used to enhance the effects of a massage. Your sense of smell is many times more powerful than your other senses. There are many different types of oils that are used to achieve different effects.
Essential oils which have a calming effect and reduce stress include:
- sandalwood and
Oils that are useful for menopause symptoms include the following:
- heavy periods – cypress, geranium, rose
- sleeplessness – neroli, lavender
- depression – clary sage, rose
- tiredness – basil
- dry, flaky skin – avocado, wheatgerm
- discomfort of the muscle and joints – juniper, lavender, rosemary
- headaches – lavender, peppermint
- premenstrual symptoms – lemon grass, ylang-ylang
When combined with one of these techniques of massage, the essential oil is diluted with a base oil such as soya or sweet almond oil. 20 drops of essential oil should be added to 100ml (3.3 fl oz) of base oil to achieve optimal effect.
Improving your mental health
Mental fitness may rank very low on your list of priorities. With so many things on your plate, where does good mental health fit into your busy life?
Women are more likely to develop mental illness than men, this tendency starts in the teenage years and is not specifically related to menopause. However, women may have an increased tendency towards developing mental illness towards middle age. This may be due to coping with menopausal symptoms, children leaving home and marital difficulties amongst many reasons. All these life changes combined can often lead to depression.
Poor mental health is not as obvious as poor physical health and so tends to be ignored, good mental health can help you cope with challenges, emergencies and stress. It also contributes to fuller and more meaningful relationships.
What do we mean by mental health?
Mental health refers to your brain’s physical health as well as your emotional state.
Some characteristics of poor mental health include:
- over-dependence on other people
- prolonged and excessive amounts of self-pity when things don’t go your way
- having feelings of hopelessness
- having many shallow relationships
Steps to increase your mental fitness and memory
Do some kind of intellectual work every day.Try crossword puzzles or games like scrabble.
- Add up your bill and calculate how much you should get back as change e.g. at shops or restaurants.
- When you read a book, summarize the plot with names, dates and places.
- When you shop, try and get as many things as you can without looking at your list.
- Write down new words you come across every day, look up their meanings and use them in conversations.
Stress can affect your mood and memory. Long-term stress can cause your body to release stress hormones which affect your brain cells. Practice deep breathing and mental imagery.
Keep physically fit
Exercise increases blood flow to your heart and brain which nourishes them.
Eat a healthy balanced diet
Whole grain bread and cereals are healthy sources of carbohydrates.
Maintain a healthy self-esteem
Know your strengths and weaknesses and accept yourself as a worthwhile human being. Interact with family members and friends that are supportive and re-enforce the positive things about you.
Start a home business
This is ideal for keeping you mentally active and also brings in extra income. Unfortunately there are many scams out there that try to trap you with outrageous promises. However, there are some reputable organizations offering down-to-earth solutions especially in the area of developing your own informational website focusing on your hobbies or passions.
Take an evening class or a full-time academic course
Maybe there’s something you’ve always wanted to learn about or a profession you’ve always been interested in. Courses may be available via distance education programs online or at a local community college for example.
It is possible for you to remain mentally alert well into your 80’s. It just needs a little care and effort on your part.