Our body’s reaction to stress cannot differentiate between acute and chronic stress.
The body’s reaction to stress is to produce cortisol, the master stress hormone, no matter what the cause of the stress, whether it be real or self-imposed. Cortisol is very good when you are in a dangerous situation, for example, if you are confronted by a snarling animal that is foaming at the mouth. The masterful benefits of cortisol in this situation are:
· Your heart beats faster. This increases your blood pressure and sends more oxygen to your brain for you to think fast and make quick decisions.
· Your body directs blood flow away from other organs and to your muscles to use for running or fighting.
· Your liver secretes glucose for energy to use for running or fighting.
· Your digestion shuts down so that energy can be used for running or fighting.
· Clotting factors are released into your blood so you will not bleed as much if you are injured.
This is all powerful when faced with a dangerous situation.
However, cortisol is meant to be short term help. If you are chronically stressed the negative effects of prolonged release of cortisol include:
· High blood pressure. The negative effects are numerous and include damage to arteries, sexual dysfunction, and cognitive impairment.
· Reduced blood flow to organs. They cannot fully function without proper blood flow.
· Secretion of too much glucose in your liver. Too much glucose causes blood vessel damage.
· Increased clotting factors. The clotting factors that make you not bleed as much if you are injured also mean your arteries may clog over time.
Some stress is difficult to avoid. If you are almost in a car accident, your heart rate may go up briefly and then come down. If you have children, medical costs have drained your savings, rent is due and you may be laid off from your job, it would be foolish for someone to tell you not to be stressed. Even in these cases, one must still learn to deal with ongoing, long-term effects of stress.
Living completely without stress is not the idea. Self-imposed chronic stress is not healthy. Traffic jams can be frustrating. While they are relatively unavoidable, your reaction to them is in your control. The how-to is different for each person. There are lots of articles and books about reducing stress, but a few simple thoughts are:
· Breathing exercises work for many people.
· Meditation can help to reduce stress.
· You cannot control the behavior of others. You can only control your response.
The thought of being stressed about how others drive, for example, will never change how they drive. It is like being upset because water is wet.
Do you control your thoughts or do they control you? You get to choose.