by Dr. Lynn Thompson
We have now crossed the Winter Solstice (disambiguation) and the days are getting longer rather than shorter. This time of year at this latitude, we get very little sunshine and with the increased stress of holidays and bills, our health can suffer. In making your New Year’s resolutions, did you promise yourself to take time to meditate, lose weight, or quit smoking? Did you prepare for the changes you want to make? What is really your “game plan” to be successful? Is to live a less “stressful” life at the top of your “To Do” list for the New Year?
We discuss stress on a daily basis, but what is stress anyway? Stress is the body’s response to any demand placed on it. One of the main causes of stress is change, including personal loss, frustration, illness, accident, change in lifestyle, sudden financial gain/loss, new job pressures, family demands, retirement, even the fun of an exciting vacation. Stressful situations are not always negative events. People who love their work and who keep trying to do more faster and better can experience a large amount of stress even while enjoying the challenges.
When you are threatened, your brain instantly sends signals to your body that:
Cause quick and shallow breathing
Make your nerves more excitable
Increase your heart rate and blood pressure
Increase your metabolism (ironically will decrease weight loss)
Retain sodium in your cells
Make you sweat
Your health is affected by your body’s response to the stress rather than by the stress itself. Research has shown that stress can cause up to 90% of all illness leading to anxiety/depression, addictions, fatigue, headaches, insomnia, digestion problems, allergies, and premature aging to name a few. The body’s stress response is the same each time, no matter what the threat or stressful event. In our modern times, when we are in the “fight or flight” mode, we do not fight or run away in our daily lives. Instead, we stay in our normal routine while the chemical responses to stress continue to accumulate. Stress that is not relieved through exercise or relaxation becomes “distress.”
The problem with excess stress is that it becomes a pathway for disease. Stress is so pervasive in all of our everyday lives that it constantly affects our mind, body, and spirit, so being able to manage stress is the key to maintaining proper balance and to feeling healthy, whole, and complete.
Stress management starts with awareness. What are the stressors in your life? How are you currently dealing with those stressors? How is your current management style working for you? Are you ready for a change in technique?
Simple and inexpensive techniques to reduce stress can be performed on a daily basis or more, if needed.
Make sure you are getting at least 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Having adequate calcium and magnesium in your diet is a must. Other sleep aids could include occasional use of melatonin.
Take time to care for yourself. Learn to have fun daily with your family or friends. Laughter is healing as well as a mood elevator.
Do relaxation exercises. Studies show that an average person can learn to reduce physical tension at least 25-40% by practicing relaxation techniques. These techniques can also reduce an elevated heart rate or blood pressure, which will help your heart. When you are truly relaxed, your muscles are free of excess tension, your mind is at ease, and you handle stressful situations without triggering the “fight or flight” response.
When learning to relax, make sure you choose a comfortable area free of noise, bright light, and distractions. Concentrate on just a few muscle groups each session. Practice daily to increase your skills and feel great. If muscles become tense while practicing relaxation exercises, locate and release the tension. (The tension may be there to protect your body. If tension persists, seek advice from your Chiropractor). Focus your mind on something pleasant and calming. Have the attitude of gratitude. If busy or disturbing thoughts intrude, gently push them aside. Living a spiritual life makes a person stronger and provides inner strength for daily living. It is best to wait an hour after a heavy meal or strenuous activity before practicing relaxation exercises. Get fresh air daily. Walk outdoors when possible. Avoid toxic chemicals and don’t smoke.
A technique that anyone can perform is the Air Break. Deep abdominal breathing has an amazing calming and healing effect. This exercise takes only a few seconds and may be done anywhere. Try it now.
Sit comfortably erect with both feet on the floor or lie flat with your entire body supported.
Exhale slowly through your mouth until you have pushed all the stale air out of your lungs.
Inhale through your nose and fill your lungs with clean air, expanding your abdomen. You can put your hand over your abdomen and “push” it up/out. Feel your chest expand fully, but not enough to make you uncomfortable.
Exhale slowly through your mouth, feeling your abdomen go in toward your spine.
Repeat for four breaths.
If you are having stress issues that you cannot overcome by yourself and/or with the help of your family or friends, please consult a professional for assistance. Learning to relieve stress rather than holding it in your body is one of the very best things you can do for your health. Be good to yourself. You are worth it!
Dr. Lynn Thompson is a licensed Doctor of Chiropractic and holds both Naturopathic and Homeopathic medical degrees. She is in private practice in Eau Claire at Quantum Health & Wellness/Rejuvenation, where she specializes in stress reduction techniques. She can be contacted at (715) 597-3478 or (715) 456-6734.