There is good stress and not so good stress. Our fight or flight nervous system is meant to protect us and you can manage stress.
A prolonged level of stress has negative physiological effects due to the activation of the muscular, autonomic and neuro-endocrine systems.
- Suppress our immune systems, making it harder to fight infections.
- Cause stomach and intestinal problems that lead to nausea, diarrhea/constipation and weight gain.
- Lead to muscle tension that causes headaches, muscle spasms and uncontrolled pain.
- Cause cardiovascular problems like atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and heart attacks.
- Make other health problems worse like autoimmune diseases and skin conditions.
- Lead to a significant increase in both anxiety and depression.
There are many ways of decreasing the negative impact of stress. One of the first is to live one day at a time — sometimes one breath at a time.
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What does that mean?
The front part of brain, which is amazing and makes us uniquely human, can also cause deep distress. It is the thinking part of the brain that allows us to worry.
Worry is thinking — and thinking can either calm and soothe us or freak us out. We can scare ourselves by thinking “What if?” or we can calm ourselves by thinking “If … then and only then.” We should stop and ask ourselves, “Is it helpful for me to think this way?” If it is not, STOP the thinking. It is a simple concept that is hard to do; practice is necessary!
Another way to deal with unhelpful thinking is to use mindfulness.
Mindfulness is “the awareness that emerges through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment to the unfolding of time – nonjudgmentally” (JK Zinn).
One easy way to practice mindfulness is by closing your eyes and focusing on the air going in and out of your nose. Keep all your attention on the air going in and out of your nose and when your mind gets distracted with thoughts or you experience a feeling, just gently bring your awareness back to the air going in and out of your nose. The purpose is not to stop thought or feelings but to just notice them and bring your focus back to the present moment: air coming in and out of your nose. There is very strong evidence for regular practice in mindfulness really helping to calm our brains.
Other ways to manage stress include deep abdominal breathing, relaxation and imagery. These can actually counter the stress nervous system directly; you can’t be relaxed and stressed at the same time, right? Other strategies include yoga/tai chi/qigong, exercise and laughter. It is also important to focus on positives even when things seem bleak. Turning to spiritual practices like prayer and church can be helpful for some people. Setting limits and assertive communication about what you need is also very important. Finally, do not underestimate the importance of good sleep!
Sometimes people think that they caused the cancer because of stress in their lives. There is no real evidence that stress causes cancer. However, there is plenty of evidence that management of stress can positively impact you not only physically, but emotionally as well.
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