Staying Stressed Out Is Unhealthy
I get a bit stressed out when I write about stress. It’s so terribly damaging to so many people. But there are surefire, natural, stress management techniques that can reduce and even eliminate stress, even when it’s chronic.
Stress: a review
First, let’s remember that not all stress is bad. If you wake up one night in a smoke-filled bedroom, you’d better believe that your stress response could save your life.
That’s temporary, or acute, stress. It takes its toll, but it’s temporary and it’s worth it.
The problem is when you’re feeling stressed too often, or most of the time—worried, edgy, unhappy, angry, fearful. That’s chronic stress. And that, along with bad diet, are the two ultimate causes of just about every health problem there is.
Considering that the holidays are coming, and the stress that often comes with the joys of family gatherings, along with the probable bad diet choices…I hope this helps get you prepared.
You are your own stress reliever
More and more research is proving is that your perceptions affect your health, for better or for worse. This is one of the most profound findings medical science has brought us—ever.
Of course, it’s what every intuitive healer—sweat-lodger, medicine dancer, bones-tosser, potion-mixer, prayer-chanter, and touch healer has always known: your beliefs become your reality. If you believe that chant will drive evil from your soul…it can.
Science is proving it
The key takeaway here?
Stress is caused by thought—what you think and how you perceive your current reality.
That’s entirely different than symptoms caused by a detectable pathogen or other external physical cause.
I’m talking about very real physical symptoms, with no visible cause, caused only by your thoughts (stress, anxiety, anger, etc), that can include:
- Muscle tension or pain
- Chest pain
- Low libido
- Stomach upset
- Sleep problems
But that’s only the beginning. Left unchecked, chronic stress, anxiety and irritability can leave you vulnerable to far more serious, life-draining health problems—the usual heavy hitters:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Type II diabetes
It’s the thought that counts
Growing libraries full of recent medical science say so.
A Spanish study recently tested how optimism and pessimism affected participants’ responses to stress—and the role of their perceptions in their responses.
The results suggested that the optimistic participants—”the glass is half-full” people—showed:
- Significantly lower physiological stress responses than pessimistic “glass half empty” participants, e.g., lower heart rates and lower levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone
- Significantly faster recovery from stress, as shown by heart rate and cortisol level recovery
In addition, the pessimistic participants perceived stressful tasks to be more difficult, and requiring more effort, compared to optimistic participants’ perceptions.
Why does this work?
We humans have an amazing brain. Among the many powers it gives us is our ability to think about what we think. It’s called metacognition—higher-order thinking that enables understanding, analysis, and control of one’s cognitive processes.
Control of one’s cognitive processes? Which ones?
Memories have a life of their own
Everything we experience in life is recorded in what’s called our subconscious brain. That includes what cold weather feels like, what pizza tastes like, what’s dangerous, what’s safe—everything.
In your subconscious brain, every new experience creates a new neural pathway that connects perception with emotion.
- A negative experience in the past will connect “This is a difficult moment” with “I can’t deal with this” in the present
- A positive experience will connect “This is a difficult moment” with “I can handle it.”
So if you’ve experienced “It’s half-empty” or any other pessimistic thought somewhere in your life, it’s there in your subconscious. When confronted with a situation that stimulates that negative perception, it pops up out of your subconscious and colors your response to the moment.
It happens before you even think about what you’re really dealing with in the moment.
Rethink, revise, re-wire—relief
But when your subconscious serves up that pessimistic perception, guess what?
That’s just a thought. You can use your metacognitive skills to think about that thought—and decide to keep it or not. And most importantly, you can replace it with a new, positive thought that creates a new neural pathway in your subconscious.
The more you call up that new thought, the stronger the new pathway grows…and the old pathway finally crumbles away from neglect.
You’re literally re-wiring your brain.
This is the process at the heart of self-talk, which I advocate as a way to fight depression.
How does this affect your health?
Our amazing brains come through again. A positive thought tells your body to produce positive chemicals. And equally, to stop producing the negative ones linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and depression.
That’s good medicine for everyone. It’s especially important if you don’t have any of these diseases, but are at risk.
If you have a family history, for example, of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, or if you have unhealthy lifestyle habits—sedentary, bad diet, socially isolated—then adding chronic stress to the mix can push you over the edge and into disease.
Change your mind and change your health
As always, your health is your choice, and how you manage it is entirely up to you. If you or your doctor or other caregivers think your stress might be chronic, work with them to find out.
If you get a “yes,” I hope I’ve given you a new way to deal with it.
Please—think about it. That’s all it takes.
Take good care.
- “Understand Your Stress: Acute Vs. Chronic Stress” Centre For Study On Human Stress. Published NA. Last accessed November 4, 2016.
- ” Glass half empty or half full? The answer could be related to stress reactivity in aging” Centre for Study on Human Stress. April 7, 2016. Last accessed November 4, 2016.
- Puig-Perez, Sara et al. “Optimism and pessimism are related to different components of the stress response in healthy older people.” Available online September 5, 2015. Last accessed November 4, 2016
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior” Mayo Clinic. Published NA. Last accessed November 3, 2016.
- Dispenza, Joe. “Dr Joe Dispenza- TED Talks with Dr Joe Dispenza” Feb 8, 2013. Last accessed November 5, 2016.
- Dispenza, Joe “Breaking the Hait of Being Yourself: Introdutory Lecture” November 30, 2012. Last accessed November 5, 2016.
Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: November 30, 2016