Holiday celebrations are here. To many, this is a time of worry, anxiety and tension which affects our mental and physical well-being.
We have a choice in the decisions we make every day towards our health. We have the power to make ourselves ill or work toward wellness. Stress has become a major contributor in our modern-day illnesses. Managing stress is essential to give our body the power and ability to bounce back from diseases.
According to Harvard Medical School, 60 to 90 percent of office visits to our primary care provider have a stress related component.
- Chronic stress can lead to obesity, depression, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, digestive disorders, asthma, PTSD, addictions and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Chronic stress decreases our immune system’s ability to fight against colds, infections and ailments.
- Chronic stress affects our cognitive function and ability by altering our decision-making and memory capabilities. It changes how our nervous system effectively responds to stressful and non-stressful events.
Research has shown living in a chronic fight or flight state speeds up the aging process.
This physical state creates an unstable environment, compromising our innate ability to combat disease. As a result, our body can become unable to maintain and sustain optimum psychological and physical well-being.
Stress is seen and felt in different ways. Worry, anxiety, fearfulness, nervousness, apprehension, restlessness, feeling overwhelmed, sadness, impatience, intolerance, panic attacks and anger are all symptoms of stress. These are the various presentations of a chronic overactive sympathetic nervous system, known as our fight and flight response to everyday problems.
When we are confronted with an event that we perceive as a danger, our sympathetic nervous system acts like a gas pedal in a car and sends a distress signal to a specific area in the brain. Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin are released to give us energy to respond to the perceived problem.
Our fight or flight response is present for our survival. Our heart rate increases, blood pressure elevates, we breathe faster, our senses (sight, hearing) are heightened and on alert. And our blood sugar is elevated to supply the body with energy to help us manage the situation.
After the initial danger is over, our parasympathetic nervous system called rest and digest, acts like a brake to calm the body and return it to a relaxed state. From there, we can move forward and enjoy our lives in a more peaceful frame of mind.
When we continue to over-react to everyday situations such as traffic jams, family problems, pressures at work or daily inconveniences with a full-blown fight or flight response, we put our body into a heightened state of arousal that can lead to long-term physical and psychological effects of chronic stress.
For example, persistent adrenalin surges can damage our blood vessels leading to high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks. Elevated cortisol levels increase our appetite, steering us to overeating and weight gain. Excess gastric acid secretions can lead to heartburn and inflammation in the esophagus.
When we live in a chronic, stressful state of mind, we are not giving our body the chance to recover and heal from the daily impact of our modern-day life. We can learn techniques to counteract our daily stressors. One method is learning to meditate for mental and physical relaxation.
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, meditation can provide a sense of calmness and balance that can influence our emotional and physical well-being. We will be able to respond to obstacles or negative events in a composed state of mind rather that flying off the handle and reacting as if every event is a fight or flight situation.
The brain is a muscle that needs to be exercised and nourished. Meditation can teach us to increase our concentration time and improve our attention span. It can enhance our attentiveness and ability to focus longer on tasks. Meditation strengthens the frontal lobe and helps with logical thinking and clarity.
Another goal of meditation is to help us from becoming mentally overwhelmed. We learn to step back, take a breath and refocus to find strategies to navigate through problems we are dealing with.
Meditation allows us to shift back and forth from a sympathetic nervous system state of existence to exist in the parasympathetic nervous system, the relax and repair state of being.
I began my personal meditation practice by searching for five-minute meditations on You Tube. Now four years later, I look forward to getting up early every day, giving myself time to sit, be quiet and meditate before I start my day. This has made a difference in my health and my way of dealing with life. I feel happier. I’m confident in working through daily challenges that come along.
Below are ways to begin a meditation practice.
- Goggle search Jon Kabat-Zinn or Herbert Benson for their meditation programs.
- Search You Tube for guided meditations.
- Look for five-minute videos to begin with.
- Sit and listen to your breath for one minute. Then sit for two minutes and advance as you feel comfortable.
Take the time to invest in your health. You have one chance at living this life. Approach it from a healthy perspective. We have a choice in the decisions we make every day which can affect our health. Choose wisely and enjoy the holidays.
Roe Chiacchio is a cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation RN, CPT personal trainer and CDP certified dementia practitioner. She integrates her background into a specialized style of training for each of her clients and shares her perspective and knowledge in her articles published at PenBay Pilot and The Wave magazine. Her business, ONWARD, Cardiovascular Health, Wellness and Dementia Management is located in Maine. Her education is based in behavioral science, psychology, neuroscience and gerontology studies. Her interest is working to enhance physical performance and mental health of individuals through her training sessions and articles. Her hobbies are photography and international travel.
For more information, contact Roe at 207 249-8166, or firstname.lastname@example.org