Featuring Katherine Anderson, N.D., F.A.B.N.O., National Director of Naturopathic Medicine, Cancer Treatment Centers of America and Corliss Ivy, L.P.C., Mind Body Therapist, Cancer Treatment Centers of America
Career, family, finances, pets, housework, cooking, community involvement— it’s no wonder the modern woman is stressed out! Stress can be caused by physical, mental and emotional triggers and is a normal process essential to life. But chronic stress can weaken the immune system, and when the body’s defense system against diseases becomes compromised, the body is less able to defend or repair itself. Here, from the Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s Katherine Anderson, N.D., F.A.B.N.O., and Corliss Ivy, L.P.C., is what you need to know about stress, including how to identify and manage it, for a healthier, happier daily life.
Stress’s Effect on the Body
When stress occurs, it shifts the body’s balance and triggers a number of biological changes known as the “general adaptation syndrome.” There are three phases to the general adaptation syndrome:
- Alarm: There is an immediate response to stress with the adrenal glands releasing adrenaline, epinephrine and other cortisone-like substances. Heart rate and breathing increase, eyes dilate, sweating occurs, digestive activity is severely reduced and blood sugar levels increase dramatically. Adrenal levels return to normal, alarm reaction subsides and balance occurs.
- Resistance: After trying to avoid stress, the body begins to adapt to stress. With repeated or chronic exposure to stressors, we repeatedly react to stress and cannot achieve normal stress hormone levels. Adrenaline levels stay elevated at a moderate level, and we enter a state of chronic alarm and inflammation.
- Exhaustion: Adrenal glands become run down. The persistent inflammatory response to chronic stress eventually results in organ destruction, extreme fatigue and serious illness.
Stress can affect us on many levels: physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioral. Although each of us experiences stress differently, the following are some common stress-related symptoms:
Physical symptoms: Headaches, changes in appetite, weight gain or loss, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, low energy, muscle aches/tension, difficulty sleeping, sexual dysfunction, depression, anxiety, chest pain, high blood pressure, blood sugar regulation problems (prolonged elevation of cortisol leads to increased appetite, obesity, hypertension and type 2 diabetes), loss of bone mineral density, alterations in thyroid hormones and unexplained mouth soreness.
Behavioral symptoms: Difficulty concentrating, confusion, memory loss, self-medicating, social withdrawal, restlessness and dynamic shifts in relationships.
Emotional symptoms: Fear/worry, irritability, guilt, anger, intense sadness and hopelessness.
Prevent Burnout at Work
Being proactive is your best defense. If you feel overwhelmed, get control of your workload by clarifying your job description and establishing boundaries. You may need to request different duties.
Also be sure to adopt daily habits that support your mind-body wellness, create relaxing rituals, nourish your creative energy and use your vacation days.
Manage Stress in Your Daily Life
Identify the source of your stress by keeping a log of your stress triggers. Once you know the cause, you will more easily find a solution.
Get a handle on your day. Too overwhelmed even to begin? Pick one thing you know you can accomplish, and start there. Then prioritize, break your responsibilities down into lists and tackle a set number of items each day. In the future, know your limits and learn to say no to requests that make you feel overtaxed.
To make sure you have the energy to deal with daily stressors, eat a healthy, well-balanced diet with adequate fiber and essential fats. Rather than three large meals a day, switch to frequent, small ones and stay hydrated. Also, avoid stimulants such as sugar, alcohol and caffeine. If you take supplements, vitamin C, B vitamins, pantothenic acid, magnesium are helpful. Herbs that may also help (consult a naturopathic practitioner first): Siberian ginseng, chamomile, Energy Plus, rhodiola, schisandra, phytisone and theanine.
Also, make time to do the things you enjoy—watching a movie, reading a book, getting a massage, taking a warm bath, calling and confiding in a friend, painting, dancing, playing or listening to music. Exercise regularly; even light exercises and stretching can help relieve muscle tension and stress. Try to relax with mind-body techniques such as deep breathing, guided imagery, meditation, hypnosis, laughter therapy, aromatherapy, Reiki therapy, Tai Chi, Qigong and yoga. Finally, get good, restorative sleep.