It’s difficult to avoid stress. Stress enters our lives daily. It can impact your well-being and success on any type of fitness program. Here’s basic information regarding stress and psychological factors regarding lifestyle changes.
Different strokes for Different Folks
Stress can mean different things to different people. A roller coaster ride is a thriller to one person — a terrifying experience to the next. There is good and bad stress. Daily exercise is and example of good stress. Stress can be defined as: wear and tear of life; adjustive demands made upon individuals to the problems of day-to-day living, or any physical or psychological threat the a person’s well-being. Stress is essentially a good or bad change which evokes a generalized physiological response of the body to physical, psychological, or environmental demands.
Emotional and physical reactions to stress can become bothersome. Most of us would like to avoid the point where they overflow and disable us. Therefore our bodies have provided a warning system.
Feelings Feelings are a good signal (anxiety, depression, anger, etc.). Unfortunately, most of us learned to suppress feelings.
Bodily Reactions Body reactions are another good warning system to monitor stress including.
Easily overexcited, irritability, depression
Increased heart rate
Dryness of the throat
Impulsive behavior, emotional instability.
The overpowering urge to cry or run and hide
Inability to concentrate
General disorientation, alcohol or drug addiction
Feelings of unreality, general weakness, dizziness
Body trembling, increased medication use
high-pitched nervous laughter
Grinding of teeth (bruxism)
Inability to take a relaxed attitude
Neck or lower back pain
Loss of appetite
The Role of Hormones and Nerves
Throughout your body, all processes are precisely and automatically regulated by hormone and nerve activity. It is done so without conscious effort. The central nervous system acts as the control unit. It evaluates all activities both inside and outside your body to monitor and adjust to changing conditions.
The stress response illustrates how the entire body reacts to anything perceived as a threat to your stability or equilibrium.
Both physical and psychological stressors elicit the body’s stress response. Major physical stressors include surgery, burns, and infections. Other major physical stressors include, an extreme hot or humid climate, toxic compounds, radiation, and pollution.
Also, chronic “little stresses” or hidden day-to-day issues can lead to real physical ailments. Good examples are
“I hate my jobs”;
Lack of time, or lack of organization;
Too much responsibility;
“No one understands why I’m stressed”;
Rush hour traffic.
And then there are major life changes such as:
Death or loss of a loved one
Serious illness or accident;
Divorce or separation;
Death of a close relative;
Getting fired or laid off of work;
Major personal property loss (fire, theft, vandalism);
New household member.
Stress response begins when your brain perceives a threat to your equilibrium. The sight of a car hurtling toward you; the terror that an enemy is concealed around a nearby corner; the excitement of planning for a party, a move, a wedding; the feelings of pain; a snarled traffic jam or any other such disturbances perceived by the brain serves as an alarm signal.
Once the body perceives stress, it prepares to fight or flee from potentially threatening situations. A chain of events unfolds through nerves and hormones to bring about a state of readiness in every body part. The end result is preparedness for physical action (fight or flight). Here is a brief description of your body’s alarm reaction to stress:
The pupils of your eyes widen so that you can see better. Your muscles tense up so that you can jump, run, or struggle with maximum strength. Breathing quickens to bring more oxygen into your lungs, and your hear races to rush this oxygen to your muscles so that they can burn the fuel they need for energy. Your liver pours forth the needed fuels from its stored supply, and fat cells release alternative fuels. Body protein tissues break down to back up the fuel supply and to be ready to heal wounds if necessary. The blood vessels of your muscles expand to feed them better, where those of your gastrointestinal tract constrict; and gastrointestinal tract glands shut down (digestion is a low-priority process in time of danger). Less blood flows to your kidney so that fluid is conserved, and less flows to your skin so that blood loss will be minimized at any wound site. More platelets form, to allow your blood to clot faster if need be. Hearing sharpens, and your brain produces local opium-like substances, dulling its sensation of pain, which during an emergency might distract you from taking the needed action. Your hair may even stand on end-a reminder that there was a time when our ancestors had enough hair to bristle, look bigger, and frighten off their enemies.
This tightly synchronized adaptive reaction to threat is one of the miracles of the human body. You may have performed an amazing feat of strength or speed during an alarm reaction to stress. Anyone can respond in this magnificent fashion to sudden physical stress for a short time.
But if the stress is prolonged, and especially if physical action is not a permitted response to the stress, then it can drain the body of its reserves and leave it weakened, worn,e disability and susceptible to illness.
Much of the disability imposed by prolonged stress is nutritional; you can’t eat, can’t digest your food or absorb nutrients, and so can’t store them in reserve for periods of need.
All three energy fuels- carbohydrates, fat, and protein — are drawn upon in increased quantities during stress. If the stress requires vigorous physical action, and if there is injury, all three are used. While the body is busy responding and not eating, the fuels must be drawn from the internal sources.
Stress to Exhaustion
As for other nutrients, they are taken from storage — as long as supplies last. But supplies for some are exhausted within a day. Thereafter, body tissues break down to provide energy and needed nutrients. The body uses not only dispensable supplies (those that are there are used up, so to speak, like stored fat), but also functional tissue that we don’t want to lose, like muscle tissue.
During severe stress, the appetite is suppressed. The blood supply is diverted to the muscles to maximize strength and speed. So, even if food is swallowed, it may not be digested or absorbed efficiently. In a severe upset, the stomach and intestines will even reject solid food. Vomiting, diarrhea or both are these organs’ way of disposing of a burden they can’t handle. To tell people under severe stress to eat is poor advise. They can’t. And, if they force themselves to eat, they can’t assimilate what they’ve eaten.
Stress, Overeating & Fasting
In times of less severe stress, a person may respond by overeating. Many people eat excessively in response to stress since food can have a relaxing effect. The release of some stress hormones often occurs when the body is in need of sugars. You can develop a conditioned response so that whenever stress hormone levels become high, you feel the need to eat. The stress hormone produces insulin resistance, which in turn leads excess insulin production, fat deposits, and inhibition of fat breakdown.
On the other hand, fasting is itself a stress on the body. The longer a person goes without eating, the harder it is to get started again. So, it can be a no-win situation. It is a downward spiral when people let stress affect them to the point where they can’t eat. And, not eating makes it harder for them to handle stress.
Get a Handle on Stress
It’s important not to let stress become so overwhelming that eating becomes impossible. To manage overwhelming stress may be a psychological task, and if too extreme may require the help of a counselor.
When you can’t eat you will lose nutrients. If you can eat under stress do so. Try to consume all you can handle. Eat more often to meet your nutrition and energy requirements. Supplements can be useful to help prevent the risk of marginal vitamin and nutrient deficiencies.
Stress has a detrimental effect on muscle, vitamin and nutrients. What measures can we take to minimize them?
The best nutritional preparation for stress is a consistent, balanced and carried menu plan and lifestyle that meets your metabolic requirements. The right nutritional program combined with a regular exercise program will minimize the effects of stress.
Exercise is Stress Relief
One of the best ways to reduce the symptoms of stress is with exercise. Although the causes of stress may be mental, these are physical problems that are curbed with physical activity. Some factors which may explain the effectiveness of exercise for reducing psychological stress:
Exercise is a diversion which enables the person to relax due to change in environment or routine.
Exercise is an outlet to dissipate emotions such as anger, fear, frustration.
Exercise produces biochemical changes which alter psychological states.
Regular exercise may increase the secretion of endorphins in the brain. Exercise has an effect on your emotional reaction to stress. It does this by altering your mood. Fit people are usually in high spirits after a length exercise (runner’s high). This feeling is associated with the presence of endorphins, which is released by the pituitary gland in the brain.
The word endorphin, comes from the combination of two words, Endo and morphine, meaning endogenously produced morphine. Endorphins are the body’s natural pain reliever. It may be that the rise in fatty acids caused by long, gentle exercise acidifies the blood, which triggers release of endorphins.
Exercise is what your body wants to do under stress: It burns off some of the stress chemicals that tension produces, also note that a tired muscle is a relaxed muscle.
Regular exercises reduces anxiety and depression and allows you to cope more effectively with psychological stress. This is effective stress therapy. Relaxation may be induced through mental exercise as well.
Work on your attitude. One of the single most important points you can make about stress is that in most cases it’s not what’s out there that’s the problem. it’s how you react to it. A roller coaster ride is the same experience but the reactions are different. Think positive. Thinking about a success or a past experience is excellent when you’re feeling uncertain.
Take several deep breaths. Act calm and be calm. When you experience stress, your pulse races and you start to breathe very quickly. Forcing yourself to breathe slowly helps to convince the body that the stress is gone, whether it is or isn’t. What is the correct way to breathe? Abdominally-feeling the stomach expand as you inhale, collapse as you exhale.
Daryl Conant, M.Ed