Have you ever really sat down and thought about what is real stress and how much do you have? What are the degrees of stress that you experience? Has it become a habit that we create stress in our lives?
One of the most dangerous health hazards we can endure in our lives is stress. Stress was, from evolutionary perspective, a lifesaving biological function that enabled us to instinctively protect ourselves against an assailant, run away from a predator or take down a prey. In the modern world we are activating this same biological reaction to activities and events that have no life-threatening implications.
Just speaking in public, filling out tax forms and sitting in traffic jams can activate stress. Marinating corrosive stress hormones around the clock can have very serious consequences for our health. Fat accumulation, high blood pressure and heart attack are a few of the health consequences that are associated with chronic stress. If you have a high-stress lifestyle, it can raise your risk of heart attack. Your heart and mind are so closely interlinked that your mental state can have a significant influence on your heart health.
According to recent research, stress increases your risk of heart attack and stroke by causing overactivity in your amygdala. This is your brain’s fear center, located in your temporal lobe that is activated in response to real and perceived threats.
One of its most basic jobs is to keep you safe by bio-chemically preparing you to fight or flee as needed, but can have devastating effects by experiencing this on a daily basis. By having overactive fear response, it is a recipe for heart attack and stroke. Those who are highly stressed have a higher activity in the amygdala that triggers inflammation and a risk factor for heart disease. If the amygdala is healthy, it can help to protect the brain against stress, but if it’s hyper-excitable, the result of chronic stress or other factors can amplify the stress response.
As your stress level rises, so does your level of disease-promoting white blood cells, so this is just another way by which stress can lead to atherosclerosis, plaque rupture and myocardial infarction. High stress also releases norepinephrine that can cause the dispersal of bacterial biofilms from the walls of your arteries and allow plaque deposits to break loose, triggering a heart attack.
Some common signs and symptoms of stress include:
▪ Sleeping poorly, trouble falling asleep and excessive tiredness
▪ Binge drinking
▪ Lack of appetite or overeating
▪ Having a “short fuse” or being quick to anger or losing your temper
▪ Feeling overwhelmed, sad or irritable; frequent crying or quick to tears
▪ Headaches and/or general aches and pains
The conclusion to controlling the amygdala’s role in inflammation seems to be learning to reduce the activity in your amygdala. When the amygdala is triggered, oxygen is shunted from your internal organs, brain and to the extremities. Muscular function takes precedence in the fight mode. Step one would be to bring oxygen back to your brain by simply breathing in to a count of four, holding your breath for another count of four, breathe out to the count of four and then hold again for a count of four.
There are more breathing techniques like the 4-7-8 breathing and a third method taught by Patrick McKeown, the teacher of the Buteyko Breathing Method. These will help if you are experiencing anxiety or panic attacks, or if you feel stressed and your mind can’t stop racing. Using these relaxation responses will help counter stress and allow the muscles in your body to loosen. There are visualization techniques and mindfulness training that can help with this.
Emotional freedom technique is a targeted technique you can use for stress relief. A stressor becomes a problem when your response is negative, your feelings and emotions are inappropriate for the circumstances, your response lasts an excessively long time or you’re feeling continuously overwhelmed, overpowered or overworked. Bottom line is to keep your stress at a minimal and learn to control your emotions as best you can or try using one of the aforementioned techniques.
Dr Fredda Branyon