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How To Recognize Stress And Its Effects Before It Takes You Over

Stress affects different people in different ways, but affect them it does. Whether you recognize it or not, if you are stressed, it is only a matter of time before something has to give - and that something is likely to be you!

So what exactly is stress, and what does it do to you?

Stress is a collective term for a whole series of effects, mental, physical and emotional, that occur as a result of excess. Excess work, excessive partying, excess food, excessive crying by the baby - it doesn't't matter which. By definition, you are doing more to your body than it can cope with and sooner or later, it is going to let you know - usually in a hurry and with little or no warning. What is common to virtually all types of stress is that they result in release of the stress hormone - adrenaline (epinephrine).

Although adrenaline is entirely necessary and has essential functions in the body, it can, like most things, cause problems in excess. As a hormone (definition - a chemical released in one part of the body that has effects on other, distant parts of the body), very small increases in adrenaline have very large effects on the host, a.k.a. YOU. Hormones are incredibly potent by nature and even a small increase can have hugely significant effects. In the case of adrenaline, these effects include increase heart rate, faster breathing, higher blood pressure and reduced digestion.

The easiest way to understand the effects of adrenaline is to think of the "fight or flight" response. We have all experienced that rush you get when faced with a sudden fright or imminent danger - pounding heart, knotted stomach, tingling palms and acute awareness. This is the body's way of preparing either to confront the situation at hand - "fight", or get the hell out of there - "flight", hence the name. In nature it is invariably followed by an intense period of physical activity (either running away or battle) which "burns up" the adrenaline, allowing a return to the normal, resting state. It is when this physical activity does't happen that stress becomes dangerous.

When a period of stress is prolonged, and especially when it is not followed by some form of physical exertion to "relieve the pressure", several things happen. Firstly, all forms of stress are cumulative - that is, they add up on one another, building up more and more pressure on the system and requiring more and more "release" to restore balance. As a result, the levels of adrenaline build up in the body, causing chronic, long-term increases in blood pressure, heart rate etc, which are themselves damaging, requiring more and more repairs by the body to put them right. The result of this is that stores of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, balancing hormones and all sorts of other "goodies" are used up (if you drive with your engine at 6000 revs instead of 2500 you use more fuel, more oil, and your engine wears out faster - the body is no different).

This leaves your body in something of a dilemma. It needs to replace the things you have used up, and fast. However, if you are still stressed, your digestive system is all but shut down, so you can't absorb nutrients. Your body is not interested in that - it needs those nutrients and it needs them NOW, so it has to get them from ANY source possible. This means that those body processes that are not ESSENTIAL to survival right now get reduced or even shut down completely to conserve energy and nutrients. If this isn't enough of itself, additional nutrients have to be found from any possible source. In extreme cases, this means that your body starts to break down existing structures - muscle, bone, connective tissue etc., to extract the nutrients from them for use elsewhere.

Clearly, this is not a good thing long-term, and its results are as predictable as they are damaging. What started as a position of balance and "ease" becomes a position of imbalance and "dis-ease" or disease! This one fact accounts for virtually all chronic disease. What at first perhaps seemed preposterous, now becomes obvious.

Recognizing stress

Recognizing stress comes down to two things. Firstly you must recognize that you are stressed and secondly you need to identify the sources of your stress.

Discovering that you are stressed is not so difficult for most people. If you have chronic disease of any kind, e.g. high blood pressure, heart disease, skin problems, arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis etc, then your body is suffering from at least one major source of stress. ALL chronic disease is a sign of stress on one or more body systems and, as stated by twice Nobel laureate, Linus Pauling, is a sign of a specific nutritional deficiency. Remember that stress can, and does take many forms, not all of which are straightforward or even obvious.

Identifying the specific source (or sources) of your stress is not so simple. Perhaps you get stressed in specific situations, at specific times of day or in response to certain people, events or situations. Maybe it is a certain physical activity that leaves you feeling stressed, some particular dietary element, an environmental factor such as driving, a noisy home or the ring of the 'phone (or baby crying). You may even get palpitations, a throbbing pulse or chronic muscle/other pains caused by being too "tense" or any other variety of symptoms, but that I all they are - symptoms of a greater, and more fundamental problem that if dealt with, will go away by themselves with little or no specific help from you.

Most people will benefit from seeing a suitably qualified alternative medicine practitioner dealing in one of the stress-related fields such as acupuncture, reflexology, massage, reiki, kinesiology etc. Relaxation therapies such as Tai Chi and yoga will help you not just to relax, but to identify where the stresses are in your body in order that you treat them specifically. Medical tests will help to define irregularities in your system that reflect the sources of your stress, therefore helping practitioners identify the best route to resolution and health. Note here, that we are not talking about symptomatic relief, but actually getting rid of the problem once and for all (unless you continue to put yourself under the same stress, in which case, you can expect the problems to return in a hurry!).

Once you have identified your stressors you can take appropriate action to resolve the issue. Your practitioner will advise you accordingly, likely along the lines of The Principles of Stress Relief.(below)

Brian Adamson
Natural Health Information Centre

This article is Copyright 2005 Natural Health Information Centre, but may be freely distributed in its entirity when properly attributed to the source:

The Principles of Stress Relief

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