Saturday, July 27, 2013

Stress: good or bad for you?

It’s been a roller coaster of a week for me. My stress levels and emotions have been driven up one
side of the hill and back down the other a few times. Stress has become a dirty word in our language. It doesn’t feel good. But a healthy body is designed to handle stress and grow stronger because of it. Exercise is a form of physical stress. Facing a difficult challenge at work is an example of mental stress. Feeling sad saying goodbye to a loved one is emotional stress. Everyone experiences stress on a regular basis; there’s no way around it in our normal, everyday lives. The challenges we face and overcome cause whichever bodily system being taxed to become stronger in order to handle it again the next time.

The dangers of stress come from being exposed to it over and over again with no relief. In the same way that rest is required in order for the body to become physically stronger after a workout, other systems of the body need rest between challenges in order to recover and become stronger. A body that is continuously exposed to stress without reprieve is at risk because its normal defenses are overcome and become weak.

Relentless stress can be a factor in many health issues: headaches, fatigue, high blood pressure, skin conditions, anxiety, stomach problems… to name a few. It’s like a worm that snakes its way through everything and wreaks havoc.

My natural tendency when stressed is to give in to the paralyzing feeling I get, which throws me off my normal routines. I’ve done it before. When I’m mentally drained, it’s easy to allow myself to skip the gym and not stick with my eating plan. Those things take energy to follow through with, and stress saps my energy.

I thank God every day for my husband. On the worst day this week, my mind was reeling with upsetting thoughts and worries about an issue I was dealing with, and I just wanted to sit on the couch, with my computer to keep me distracted, and turn inside myself. Scott talked me into going to the gym with him and getting a cardio workout. He knew it would make me feel better. It was, of course, exactly what I needed to do. Another day I did a cardio workout in the evening at the track at a school up the street. Being outdoors and feeling my body push beyond comfortable limits did wonders for my mood. Both of those workouts were in my normal routine, but I was tempted to skip them.

That leads me to a final point I want to make about handling stress: the importance of having healthy routines already in motion. Your routines can be things that are easy to fall back on without having to put much effort into planning or thinking about “what, why and how.” When you’re overcome with stress, force yourself to do each next step of your routine. For example, if you’re already in the routine of getting up early in the morning to work out, do it, even if you don’t feel like it because you’re nervous about a difficulty you’re anticipating at work. I guarantee it’ll make you feel strong and ready to face the challenge. 

Here's to next week being a great week!

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