Let’s face it, we live in a time when being stressed has become the norm. Most people are juggling overfull schedules, raising kids, too many obligations, financial stress, housing worries, and perhaps a stressful relationship or two.
Add in a few outside stressors like concerns about the fate of the nation and planet, and it is easy to see why a recent Gallop poll found that 71% of Americans admit that they are frequently stressed.
This makes stress management, one of the few things experts agree fuels autoimmune activity, key to controlling flares and overall activity of any autoimmune disease. But why? (If you are like me, you need the why) Luckily, biology has the answer!
Remember learning about flight or fight mode in science class? The physiological response to danger? In a nutshell, what happens when we perceive a danger is our body turns up a few major systems to prepare for whatever we decide we need to do in that moment. It gets ready to run or duke it out. Your breathing quickens, your heart rate speeds up, muscles tense, all signs that your sympathetic nervous system has been activated. This places excess burden on your body, especially the heart and adrenal system.
Unfortunately, our bodies cannot tell the difference between the stress we feel because a lion is about to eat us and the stress we feel when that driver cuts us off. That means that those little daily stressors, for some all consuming, all day everyday, cause our sympathetic nervous system to always be in active mode. This leads to a huge array of problems in healthy bodies and unhealthy bodies alike.
Long-term stress causes adrenal depletion, your body gets tired of sending out those stress hormones and just cannot keep up with demand. It is also known to cause trouble with sleep (who can sleep with a body in flight mode?), weight gain (no surprise, stress hormones tell us to store fat and conserve our energy for the upcoming battle), high blood pressure, and heart attack/stroke.
Long-term stress also feeds autoimmune activity. Whether because of the additional hormones running through the body, or perhaps some confusion that the attack may be coming from inside, it is clear that stress also causes an increase in autoimmune related symptoms.
This makes stress management an important part of health management for all of us, especially those suffering with autoimmune disease. So how do we manage stress?
The first, and probably most logical step is trying to remove any stress that we can from our lives. Changing jobs, downsizing to a more affordable house/car, taking the time to enjoy life, can all decrease the amount of stress your body is dealing with. Making the time for activities that reduce your stress by switching your body to “joy” mode is also a great help. Relaxation, diet, exercise, and healthy relationships all play a part in healthy stress management.
The following links are loaded with suggestions for successful stress management.
3 Tips to Manage Stress– Sharing way more than three tips, this is an excellent article from the American Heart Association about strategies for coping with daily stressors. Stress Management– This information packed article from Brainline.org focuses on the ways we set ourselves up for stress, the ways we can change that, and strategies for de-stressing when we cannot avoid it.
Stress:Coping with Everyday Problems– This article from Mental Health America shares information about the long term effects of stress and several ways to reduce your stress. Also covers when and where to reach out for help.
16 Ways to Relieve Stress– This list of stress relieving strategies from Healthline.com is absolutely wonderful! It includes all of my favorite ways to relieve stress!