Stress is a normal part of life. It’s a natural condition our bodies are designed to deal with quite effectively. But people are often not aware of the negative consequences of modern day chronic stress on their health until it’s too late. Some people are able to cope with stress better than others. Some take practical steps to reduce their stress each day to diminish the wear and tear on their bodies and minds.
Most of us, though, are not aware of just how much stress is harming our health. It is not until we are diagnosed with a serious illness such as heart disease that we’re told we need to make drastic changes to our lifestyle and reduce stress if we wish to live longer.
So what exactly is stress? Stress is the body and mind’s response to any unusual event or situation which challenges us or that we perceieve is a threat or some kind. Stress provides the body with a burst of energy, outting us into the “fight or flight” response so we can react to the perceived threat.
People either run away from the thing that stresses them (flight), or they turn and try to deal with it (fight). Some strategies are more effective than others depending on the situation. The system is designed to be temprary, though. Once we rid ourself of the threat or danger, we should then return to a normal relaxed state of physiolgy. In the modern world, this stressed state is unfortunately not temporary for most people which leads to problems.
Our life is stressful from the moment we are born. There is the stress of birth, of feeling hunger, or needing our diaper changed. At school, there is the stress of performing well on exams, in presentations in front of the class, the school play, or on the school sports team. In our university years, there are the stresses of needing to maintain a good enough GPA to stay in school, or perhaps even get a scholarship or acceptance to grad school. Then there are social stresses, dating, relationships, friendships, peer pressure, and more.
As adults outside of school, there is the stress of whether or not we will find a job. If we don’t, there is the stress of trying to make ends meet. Even if we do get a job, we must keep it, let alone try to get a raise, promotion, and so on. Even happy occasions such as a new job, business, wedding, baby or home can trigger major stress responses in the body.
Most of us work very hard ‘burning the candle at both ends’ in order to try to keep up with all the demands on our time every day. This can lead to a lack of sleep and “downtime” for relaxation to help recharge the body and mind. The lack of rest and downtime can in turn lead to a weakened immune system. Sleep is when the body heals and repairs itself.
A lack of sleep has been shown to have the same effects on the immune system as stress. Stress in turn can interfere with one’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. This in turn can create a vicious cycle of even more stress through sleep deprivation, which can leave your immune system vulnerable and open to attack.
If you’re a workaholic, not getting enough sleep, and not taking time out for relaxation, it’s time to get your stress under control. Above all, you must avoid burning out. This is a serious situation that damages your immune system and leads to excessive inflammation which has been linked to many conditions, such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
There are many ways to reduce stress effectively – yoga, meditation, tai chi, a relaxing bath, a good night’s sleep, doing something fun that you enjoy, spending quality time with friends and family. If you have been overworking, it’s time to make some new appointments on your calendar for you. Add exercise and a good sleep habit to your daily routine to better support your immune system.