by Gerald Epling

Identifying a problem takes us a long way towards the goal of solving that problem. 

Stress hits us where we live.  It takes a toll on our bodies and on our minds.  Some stressors are more difficult to deal with than others.  Stress that comes with nervous apprehension is more of a challenge, than stress that comes from a situation that we can easily change.  For most of us, 35 degrees Fahrenheit or colder is a stress on the body.  But we can easily deal with that stress by adding layers of clothing or moving inside to warmer surroundings.  Just knowing that a situation is not going to last forever empowers us to continue thinking, planning, and acting as if we have a bright future.

The more a stressor appears to disrupt our life, the more likely we are to experience the negative effects of stress.  Stress like this drives the body to increase blood-flow to the muscles of the body and to promote respiration.  The blood that flows to provide a quick response to stress reduces blood-flow to the brain and internal organs.  The immune system takes a back seat to the stress response, as does the brain.  When blood is diverted away from the frontal lobes of the brain we lose some cognitive ability.  Thinking things through becomes more difficult.  Over long periods of stress the brain becomes eroded by the cortisol response and memory is diluted.

Stress will come to us all in one form or another.  How we handle the stress that comes our way determines if we are damaged by stress or if we are able to let it pass away and dissolve into the mists of our past.

There are three very informative aspects of stress that can be profitably considered.  One aspect is the physiological changes that come with stress.  Another aspect is the psychological effect of stress.  The third is the disruption of your energy.  In the space of a few short paragraphs, it is easiest to deal with the changes in the physical body that come with stress.

The science of what happens to people under prolonged stress provides a good picture of what constant, grinding stress can produce.  Adrenaline is a neurotransmitter and hormone.  Hormones can be thought of as neurotransmitters that have found their way into the blood stream. Adrenaline stimulates us.  It is part of our response to any sort of arousal.  This sort of intense stimulation can be really handy, if we need to move quickly or draw on extra strength.  As good as adrenaline is, and as good as it feels to have the rush of energy coursing through our veins, there is a limit to what our bodies can handle.  When the hypothalamus, located deep in the brain, senses an overabundance of adrenaline; a signal is sent to the pituitary gland.  In response, the pituitary gland sends a signal to the adrenal glands, which are located above the kidneys.  When the adrenals get the signal, some cortisol is released.  Cortisol is soothing and makes us feel warm and maybe even a bit tingly.  The whole stress and response ride is quite stimulating.  However, once the body is stressed, the levels of cortisol in the blood tend to increase.  When this cortisol increase compounds over time, we see a rise in blood pressure and other disturbing features.

Over a period of years, high cortisol levels lead to a loss of brain cells in the hippocampal formation.  Loss of brain cells in the hippocampus means that there is a degrading of the memory.  Stress tends to reduce activity in the frontal lobes too.  This is the area of the brain that helps us think things through and to plan for our lives.

The upshot is that a little stress, now and then, is a good thing.  However, a constantly stressful life takes a toll.

How to reduce stress

Stress can lead to an alertness that is out of proportion to the events at hand.  Stress can interrupt our sleep with thoughts that would be best left for another time.

It’s true.  You can’t do your best, if you don’t get your rest!  You need to get at least 4½ hours of sleep in every 24 hour period of time.  This is the bare minimum for a productive day ahead.  Recommendations for sleep vary by age.

Age Recommended Amount of Sleep
Newborns 16–18 hours a day
Preschool-aged children 11–12 hours a day
School-aged children At least 10 hours a day
Teens 9–10 hours a day
Adults (including the elderly) 7–8 hours a day

 

If sleep doesn’t come easily to you, don’t worry.  There are ways that sleep can be sought and encouraged.  When you go to sleep, blood flow to the feet initially increases.  You can give your body a sense that sleepiness is coming by putting on some very loose fitting socks.  Another approach is to alter your brain’s neurotransmitter flow.  You may recognize histamine as part of the body’s response to blooming trees or ragweed.  Antihistamines can help us cope with ragweed and other allergy triggering events.  Many people who take diphenhydramine notice that it helps with the allergy, but it also makes them sleepy.  This is because histamine is a neurotransmitter.  Histamine in the right proportions, and locations helps us think.  If you are having trouble getting to sleep you may want to talk with your pharmacist or other health care provider about occasionally using Benadryl to help you get some rest.

Effectively dealing with stress may take more than warm socks, no blue lights, a darkened bedroom, and a quiet environment.  There is much more to explore in the way of stress reduction.  However, it is the end of the day for me and tomorrow we expect wind in excess of 80 miles per hour.  Over a large region there is a moderate potential for an EF3 tornado, and a potential for hail up to the size of a baseball.  In order to reduce my stress, I have prepared a plan for the weather.  Now, I am going to get a good night’s sleep and dream of a bright future.

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