Two weeks in paradise may alleviate the stress, but what happens when you get back?
If there is one thing that almost all of our clients, young and old, have in common, it’s chronic stress. The truth is, even a month long vacation is not the cure.
There’s no denying that we live in a stressful world. From daily time pressures, to the stress of a toxic environment, it can sometimes seem like we’re swimming in an ocean of stress and gasping for air.
Along with the more obvious stressors, emotional stress (stress from the difficulties of our lives) often goes unnoticed, and can sit at the root of many health issues. The sad truth is that stress is probably the most significant contributor to disease and it’s the most difficult to treat.
The World Health Organization estimates that by the year 2020, psychological and stress-related disorders will be the second leading cause of disabilities in the world. It’s fascinating to me that something that can be perceived in our minds can have that kind of effect on our physiology. However, if we look at the science, it makes perfect sense. Stress, real or perceived, acute or chronic stress, affects your health. It changes hormonal pathways and the way neurotransmitters relay information. If these disruptions remain ongoing, there are serious implications for your body.
The good news is, it’s never too late to do something about it. In both acute and chronic stress, the power of the mind-body connection is clear. What we perceive as a stressful or dangerous situation (whether it truly is dangerous or not) has implications in the body. For example, if you’re standing in the street and you think you hear a car coming, your body physically prepares you to move out of the way, even if the sound is something else entirely. Likewise, our past emotional experiences can color the way we see current situations.
If your father had a volatile temper that scared you as a child, you will likely feel scared as an adult when a boss, a husband, or some other male authority figure gets angry, even when that anger isn’t directed at you. So the stress we feel as children can repeat itself and have a lasting effect on how we think and experience life as adults. There is no doubt that chronic stress affects many systems in the body.
To list just a few:
-We now know that psychological stress disrupts blood sugar metabolism and can lead to diabetes.
–Chronic stress also affects the immune system, increasing our risks for autoimmune-regulated disorders like allergies, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and hypothyroidism.
-Studies done in 2006 revealed increased cardiovascular disease with ongoing stress.
-Being under stress can also influence our perception of pain, sometimes dulling it and sometimes heightening it (again, much of the way we perceive both stress and pain depends on our histories), as well as altering our neurotransmitters, often reorganizing the way we think and sometimes leading to anxiety disorders and depression.
-On top of everything else, stress can age our individual cells, making it more likely for us to suffer from age-related diseases earlier.
So you can see there’s so much more benefit to be gained with stress prevention and relief than simply feeling better in our heads. With the pandemic levels of stress in this world, researchers don’t have far to look for test subjects!
Women and stress : Is stress in our nature?
As women, many of us have a maternal nurturing response that often puts us in positions where we are trying to care for everyone but ourselves. And some scientists believe this instinct strengthens during times of stress. The reasoning behind this theory stems from women’s evolutionary instincts to protect themselves and their offspring during threatening situations. Forming groups and social networks — known as the “tend and befriend” instinct — proved beneficial to survival of the species in counterbalancing the acute “fight or flight” response.
Modern society doesn’t do us any favors by adding an increasing amount of responsibilities to a woman’s role. We worked so hard to be “liberated,” but the reality for many women is that now we’re just expected to do everything! We simply can’t do it all. I have learned first-hand that taking care of myself was essential before I could help anyone else.
We have to learn to set up boundaries for the sake of our own health and learn the benefits of simply saying no. Teaching clients to set priorities is one of the goals of our Stress Management Program.
From our own experience and that of our clients, we’ve learned that untying the knots at the root of chronic stress offers us long-lasting physical and psychological benefits. But understand that this is a highly individualized process. To truly get at the root of what is stressing you out takes a lot of self-exploration and soul-searching. And we can tell you, no two people have the same experience with stress management.
Taking steps today to reduce stress in your life has implications even greater than finding happiness and peace — it means you are preventing disease and preserving your health and longevity. With the incidence of stress-related illness and lost years of lives increasing every decade, we absolutely have to take stress seriously.
Stress is a reality in our lives, but we don’t have to let it overpower us or prevent us from being our best selves. I know from experience that taking time and energy to resolve or lessen the stress in your life isn’t easy.
If you do the work, you will regain your sense of perspective and recover your health and wellness. As noted lecturer and author Dr. Joan Borysenko says, “We can’t find the light in our lives until we’ve gone back through the darkness….” I encourage you to find that inner light by learning to incorporate stress management into your daily life and don’t just wait for a vacation.