As I sit in the doctor's office waiting for the results from my recent mammogram, my mind is racing. I feel okay, but I know that doesn't mean much. What if they find something? Am I strong enough to handle the news? What about my family? The old familiar feelings of stress and anxiety are back in full force.
Stress and worry are an inescapable part of life. When you care about things, you're going to worry about things.
Stress is the body's natural response to danger. You may think of it as an emotional drain, but there are also physical symptoms that can take a toll on the body. When you feel threatened, whether the threat is real or imagined, a chemical reaction takes place in the body that allows you to be more alert, so you are better-equipped to handle an intense situation.
This reaction is known as the "fight-or-flight" response. Your heart races, breathing quickens, blood pressure rises and muscles tighten. Your body is ready to fight.
This could be helpful if you're about to get mugged, but how often does that happen? More often, we face problems that we can't fight our way out of any more than we can run away. So, the stress continues, and our bodies stay in that revved-up, fight-or-flight state, which may cause health problems over time.
In fact, people who are more stressed may also be more likely to develop chronic health conditions, such as heart disease or arthritis, over 10 years, according to a study published in February in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
Another study suggests that stress may also shrink your gray matter. Extreme stresses, such as going through a divorce or being laid off, can reduce gray matter in an area of the brain that is responsible for emotion and physiological function, according to a 2012 study in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
It's safe to say that most of us could do more to reduce our stress levels, so let's make an effort to de-stress our lives. Here are my top tips for de-stressing.
- Use the "Will it matter 5 months from now?" test. Two months, weeks or even days from now, am I really going to care that I missed a flight or forgot someone's birthday? Sure, my life would be easier if I got those things right the first time, but they are solvable problems. I can catch another flight and send belated birthday wishes. Take a deep breath, forgive yourself and move on.
- Create a distraction. If there's nothing you can actively do to help your situation, do your best to put it out of your mind. When all you have to do is worry, that's all you're going to do. Instead, create a project for yourself, or start an intense exercise session to help take your mind off of things.
- Meditate. Making an effort to be mindful, through meditation or breathing exercises, can lower the stress hormone cortisol in the body, according to a study published this month in the journal Health Psychology.
Healthy Bites appears on MyHealthNewsDaily on Wednesdays. Deborah Herlax Enos is a certified nutritionist and a health coach and weight loss expert in the Seattle area with more than 20 years of experience. Read more tips on her blog, Health in a Hurry!