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  • Texas
    Confirmed Cases: 8,262
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Understanding the Effects of Stress and How to Counter Act It​

The world is facing a historical event, that society hasn’t seen in 100 years. With the coronavirus spreading in every country, followed by economical loss and social disconnection, the body, mind, and spirit can become overwhelmed by the constant stressors that seem to be endless this year. Leaving behind a plethora of emotions such as, anxiety, fatigue, depression, insomnia, disconnection, and even physical pain. Feelings of hopelessness, fear, and distrust of others begins consuming every thought. Social distancing has left people confined to their homes and fixated to every outlet of information to stay constantly updated on the current events. Always consuming, but never digesting the constant stream of information. While it is good to stay tuned into to what is happening, however constant stress will begin to break down the systems of the body. which lead to a depleted immune system, and the body susceptible to disease. Studies have shown that chronic stress has been linked to chronic disease such as, heart disease, cancer and lung ailments. With times like these now it is even more important to focus on how to maintain our stress levels.

What is stress? Stress is the bodies response to any action that needs a reaction, whether physical, mental, or emotional. Everyone responds to stress in a different way. It is this response that is vital to an individual’s health. When someone experiences a stressful event, the body begins to react in several ways. The autonomic nervous system which controls involuntary functions such as, respiratory functions, blood pressurecardiovascular functions. The autonomic nervous system has two parts the sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). These two systems together create homeostasis in the body. The amygdala, a part of the brain (processes emotions, primal) signals the hypothalamus (communication center for body through autonomic nervous system) that danger has been perceived. This danger signal can be from physical, mental, or emotional triggers, all are just as powerful to the body’s reaction. When the hypothalamus triggers the sympathetic nervous system creating a chain reaction of hormone production, and epinephrine(adrenalineis released in the blood stream. This increases heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing becomes rapid. The body then releases glucose (blood sugar) into the blood stream, elevating blood sugar levels. This is only the first response to stress, and all this can happen without a person even noticing. If this response continues to occur, over time the body becomes exhausted and oversaturated with unnecessary amounts of hormones. The systems of the body then cannot function properly leading to a depleted immune system and a rapidly aging body.

With times as chaotic as these, learning the tools to counter act the stress response is key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and homeostasis in the body. Even if the world feels like it is falling apart, we still have the power to find stillness and peace withinThe parasympathetic nervous system counters the effect of the stress response by soothing the nervous system and the release of hormones. This process is known as the relaxation response. During this process the body can begin to repair the damage stress has created in the body. A Harvard study showed that after practicing meditation for eight weeks, five different regions of the brain had grown and increased grey matter in the brain. Increasing brain function throughout life is vital to maintaining a healthy stress response and the aging process. Through varies practices of stress management the body learns to respond less from fear and emotion and more from logicThe more the relaxation response becomes the primary response, the body’s systems begin to function better

Finding peace during a world crisis might seem impossible, however even now more then ever it is important to stay calm and present with our body. If we allow the stress of the world to consume every thought and moment, the immune system will weaken. Leaving the body more vulnerable to the virus and other diseases. The simplest way to elicit the relaxation response is to be present in your body and the moment. Turn off the television, phones, and computers. Sit down, if you can outside in the fresh air, feel your body in the chair, feel your breath coming in and out of the body, listen to the sounds, look around. Begin to acquaint yourself with your surrounds and yourself. Remembering during this stressful time “What can I do right now” worry only creates more stress on the body. The more you come back to the present moment within, the more control we have with our reactions. When we are not stressed, we can think clearly, our hearts find more capacity for love and patience for ourselves and others. 

At the Lifestyle Medicine Center our mission is to promote health as a partnered approach by giving people education as well as practical tools to use. This allows people to feel heard and powerful in their own health care. The Lifestyle Medicine Center offers Stress Management classes once a month. Each class teaches new and exciting ways to approach stress and tools to use to counter the effects. Everyone encounters stress, but how we respond to it can change everything. 

To learn more about Stress Management classes, call 432-221-LIFE.

Jennifer Whitehead RYT, RCYT  
Stress management specialist  
Lifestyle Medicine Center 


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