From time to time I have a patient who tells me that their symptoms are “only stress.”
Although I don’t always say so out loud, I often wonder what they’d say if a truck hit them. Would they say, “It was only a truck that hit me?”
Of course this is a silly way to bring up the point that stress has a profound effect on our health. The difference between being hit by a truck and being hit by chronic stress is that you notice the truck right away.
By contrast, stress slowly eats away at your health over time. It may be years before you notice the bigger effects. But these effects can be just as devastating as a sudden major injury.
In fact, the American Institute of Stress (AIS) refers to stress as America’s #1 health problem.
For example, just the physical effects of stress can include:
- Neck ache, back pain, muscle spasms
- Frequent headaches, jaw clenching or pain
- Frequent colds, infections, herpes sores
- Heartburn, stomach pain, nausea
- Gritting, grinding teeth
- Stuttering or stammering
- Tremors, trembling of lips, hands
- Light headedness, faintness, dizziness
- Ringing, buzzing or “popping sounds in your ears
- Frequent blushing, sweating
- Weight gain or loss
- Cold or sweaty hands, feet
- Dry mouth, problems swallowing
- Rashes, itching, hives, “goose bumps”
- Unexplained or frequent “allergy” attacks
- Excess belching, flatulence
- Constipation, diarrhea
- Difficulty breathing, sighing
- Chest pain, palpitations
- Frequent urination
- Poor sexual desire or performance
There are also other issues triggered by stress, particularly emotional and work performance problems. Things like depression, irritability, compulsive behavior, social withdrawal and poor mental focus can all result from long-term stress.
Needless to say, there may be other factors for many of these issues. Even so, the fact is if you’re experiencing stress, you’ll be much more susceptible to such problems.
Dealing With It
So how do you deal with stress?
First, it’s important to recognize that not all stress is bad. Stress comes in two forms – negative, damaging stress and positive, energizing stress. People who love their work or enjoy challenging activities like rock climbing or sky diving usually experience positive stress.
It’s the negative stress that gets you.
And dealing with negative stress is actually pretty easy. The hard part is making sure you do these things regularly, especially when you’re experiencing particularly stressful times.
Here are the 4 most important parts of effective stress management:
- Breathe: What could be simpler? Unfortunately, most people don’t know how to breathe well, or if they do, they don’t remember to practice. Correct breathing triggers a relaxation response in the entire body, freeing you from many of the negative effects of stress. Examples – yoga, qigong, meditation.
- Eat: If you think that food has no effect on stress, think again. The quantity, quality and ratios of proteins, carbohydrates and fats in your diet have a huge impact on your body, either helping relieve or helping aggravate stress. Examples – eating only whole, fresh, natural foods, following your Metabolic Typing® diet.
- Move: Exercise is an incredibly effective stress-reducer. The exact best type of exercise will vary from person to person. Examples – walking, sports, weight-lifting.
- Think: How you think about the events in your life does truly have a profound effect on how your body reacts to them. In this short description we don’t have room to discuss all the various ways you might change this, so just become aware that if you think about things in a different way, your body will react differently. Examples – listening to positive self-programming audio tapes, turning off the news at night, meditation.
The bottom line is, don’t take stress lightly. If it goes on long enough you’ll have even more problems to deal with.