Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Stress Kills.

In the last few weeks, my husband and I have gone through more than a small amount of stress. We are house hunting, and as first time buyers, we're treading in a market that is full of homes due to foreclosures. Many people are working to try to save their credit by offering to go into a Short Sale, and this is also stressful to both the seller and the buyer. Then, mortgage companies, slammed with new applicants who want to get in on the $8000 new home owners tax credit, are pushing for people to take houses far sooner than they are ready, so as not to start the loan process again. Short Sales, foreclosures, loan processing, and then packing up belongings to move to some place else- it's all stressful, and it's all a great impact to our health.

You don't need to be struggling to keep a home, or struggling to buy a home to feel stress. Parents are pulled in thirty directions to be the carpool for sports practice, to assist teachers who are unable to afford supplies for classrooms, to handle the every-day issues of sibling rivalry, illnesses, and peer pressures. Single people struggle with the idea of finding partners, or finding jobs, roommate hell, and of course, parents who pressure them not to be single anymore. Seniors are struggling with the lack of health care, the lack of assistance and an ever-growing cost of living that is pushing higher than the amount of Social Security available to them. Everyone is feeling the struggle of an economy that has only started to see changes of a more positive future.

Stress changes us physically. We lose sleep. We change our eating habits. For some of us, our psychological welfare is harmed- we may get panic attacks, or feel depression. We may find our relationships are suffering. The people around us just don't understand what it is we struggle with and we may wonder this ourselves. And, our bodies will react to stress even before we realize we're going through it. Some will have irritable bowel syndrome, others will develop hair loss, still others may find that skin becomes an issue.

When we have an adrenaline boost, the "fight or flight" reaction, we have a variety of responses that aren't always conducive to either. Athletes who feel stress may find they perform better whereas some athletes discover that the moment they feel pressured, they have the opposite reaction- and fail in major ways. For instance, an ice skater who aces local trials in her region may fall several times during a simple routine simply because the stakes are higher. Someone who can speak to a classroom of 20 children may find themselves forgetting words, or even unable to speak to a room of 50 adults. Simply put, we aren't ourselves anymore.

Some physical changes relating to stress can be so damaging to our health that we may end up in the hospital. Our hearts may race, or we may have lost so much sleep or deprived ourselves of nutrition that we've become ill. For some, there is a dismissive response to the idea that stress is creating havoc in our bodies. These people suffer greatly, and could even find themselves at death's door sooner than not.

There's a reason why people offer food to bereaved family members during a funeral. There's a reason why people have dinners at weddings. Housewarmings involve food. Celebrations of birth involve food. People who don't eat during stressful times are shown the option of food during those times that are generally very stressful.

It's been proven that those who are given a big picture of things to expect before stressful situations are likelier to handle the stress far better. There is a reason why new employers, universities, schools, and even day care centers offer orientation classes. There is a reason why new parents are pushed to go to 'birthing' classes. There is a reason why doctors visit prior to surgery. Life isn't about having things easily laid out, but having a little bit of an idea of things that are likely to happen ease the surprise factor.

We aren't wired to be a 25 hour a day society, and yet, we live online which is a non-ending location of information and interaction. We work jobs that often have hours that are far longer than 9 to 5. (I can't even remember the last job I had that didn't require 8-6, with a nonpaid lunch.) Companies that lay off workers are expecting those left behind to work more hours. Children aren't just asking for a bike, a baseball, or Barbie, they're asking for high-end electronics. We don't just pay for phone, gas, and electric- we now pay for cell phones, television, internet, gas, electric, land lines, HOA's, and oh yeah, shipping. The parents are moving back in with their kids, the college grads are moving back in with parents, and kids seem happier with their Wii's and burger meals than with a dog and a day in the park. People we don't know want to "friend" us, "tweet" us, and sell us products. For some reason, we're all lacking in our acai and viagra supplies. The world wants so much from us, no wonder we're screaming at strangers in traffic, and making comfort foods the best sellers in grocery stores.

The one way to get rid of stress is to give our bodies something better to focus on. For some people, the day only works well if they've hit the gym first. This is an ideal way to decrease stress. You don't have to be into working out- DANCE! Listen to your favorite music and move around. The endorphins get released and the chemical changes we feel for depression also seem to lessen. Music is a great release- get out your favorite songs, and sing like no one is listening. (I'm partial to Rollins Band when I need to scream, Gap Band when I need to bounce, and Rubber Band Man when I need to dance.) Just singing to ourselves in a shower, or dancing around the house in our favorite sweats burns calories, reduces stress, and gives adrenaline no chance!

Feel no guilt about hobbies! Our culture seems to be divided over the idea of using our time for personal pursuits rather than taking care of others, or career pursuits. You can reduce a lot of stress by giving yourself permission to have a few games of solitaire. Let yourself play with those yarn needles. If you want to race slot cars, what's the problem? Do you like pets and want to give Rover some TLC? Go for it. Having recess from life is how we can cope better with stress. You had recess in school as a kid to burn off the energy that was stifled by classroom time. Think of stress as one big classroom time, and you got a reason for that recess.

Laughter is proving to be a great player in good health. More studies have shown laughter to reduce stress than even some depression medications. Go hit a comedy club, go watch an old movie, or even hit up and check out classics from Phyllis Diller or Laugh-In. You don't need money to laugh. Read a comic book, write a comic book! Find the absurd in your stressful situations and you'll laugh a lot more.

Private time is a great way to reduce stress, but it isn't for everyone. Some people use private time to let those worries just cycle through like a whirlpool in the mind. But, some people find that just taking a walk, or hitting a bubble bath, or even sitting with a book is a great way to tune out the world and just sit within oneself. Those who practice meditation are said to feel stress far less than those who don't. I don't know if that is true for everyone, but I do know that some people find great self strength in silence.

Face the stress - completely confront it! When I was battling IBS, I had tried to hide from other people, and tried to hide from myself. I let my body decide my social life, decide my reactions, and generally rule me. But, when I started to confront the things that caused the stress, the IBS started to appear less and less. If you know work is giving you stress- then figure out a way to accomplish your tasks without conflicts. Ask for help. Talk to those who are creating emotional upheaval. Ask questions. If family is too demanding, demand back- and let people know that you're in over your head. You may be surprised that just opening yourself up to communication will dissipate stressful situations.

Don't kill yourself over stress. If you find you've changed your eating habits, then set up specific times of day to eat. If you find you're not sleeping, talk to a doctor about either getting a prescription to help, or find melatonin, bubble bath, a scent, or something that calms you enough to at least nap. If you have heart racing responses, be sure you see a doctor and that you aren't ignoring an bigger issue. It's okay to feel out of control some days. It's okay to feel lost and confused some days. Let yourself feel allowed to talk to someone about it- anyone- just so you can relate to the human race. It may save your life.

This week's questions- What do you do to combat stress? How have you dealt with it in the past? Are you able to do something that's considered recess?