“Stress” and “daily life” are rapidly becoming synonyms. Surveys over the last three decades show that an ever-increasing percentage of Americans describe themselves as “stressed out”. In the latest survey, that percentage was over fifty. Physicians now estimate that stress is the cause of over seventy percent of doctor visits. Stress is a major factor in heart disease, our number one killer; strokes, our number three killer; cancer, our number two killer; depression, anxiety, autoimmune diseases, insomnia, diabetes, high blood pressure, addictions, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue…the list goes on and on. And for just about any health condition you have, the symptoms are more severe when you’re stressed than when you’re not.
So, it is becoming abundantly clear that if you want to be healthy now days, you have to learn how to be healthy with stress. That’s a big topic, but it’s doable. You can learn how to be in situations over which you have no control and stay in your personal power at the same time…and I’m going to show you how.
What stress does to your body and how it does it had been thoroughly discussed other places (see Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky (and that reminds me, you have to add digestive problems to the list above)) so I won’t go over that here.
Basically, there are two major categories of stressors: those inside your skin and those outside your skin. Inside, or physiological stressors, include such things as infections, allergic reactions, chronic pain from whatever reason, not sleeping well, and such. These kinds of stressors generally require diagnosis and appropriate treatments at the level of causation, not just suppressing symptoms, to resolve. Integral medicine is a great way to work on these kinds of issues. You can listen to and learn from them, but, generally, they do not get better by just changing your thinking about them, though sometimes they do. I want to focus now on the stressors outside your skin.
Technically, nothing outside your skin is stress. All that exist out there are potential stressors. They are only stressors for you if they trigger the fight or flight response in you. This stress response is triggered whenever you perceive yourself to be either spread too thin or threatened in some way. The key word here is “perceived”. One person’s stress could be another person’s recreation. The difference between those two people is the way that they look at their experience.
But once you get stressed, your body starts responding in a matter of milliseconds…way too quickly to stop and do your positive breathing exercises. Once your adrenal glands give you a squirt of cortisol in response to the stress, it stays in your blood stream for over three hours. So, you only need two or three stressors a day to effectively spend the entire day in the stress response physiology. The way that your body is designed, it cannot stay in the stress physiology for long periods and stay healthy at the same time.
So, to stay healthy in the face of life’s potential stressors, of which there are more and more all the time, you need to be able to work with whatever determines your perceptions, whatever determines how you look at your life experiences. This means that you need to learn how to work with your mind.
Stressors from the old jungle that nature created for us generally asked us to make physical and social changes in order to adapt. The stressors from the new jungle that we’ve created for ourselves seem to be asking us to make changes in our consciousness and sense of personal responsibility in order to adapt.
In the next installment, we will go over what determines how you look at your life experiences, then we’ll talk about how to find and change those determinants so that you can face the vast majority of what you have to deal with every day without triggering the fight or flight response in your body.