for release Friday January 28, 2005
by Melodie Davis
Why Make Yourself Crazy, Sick, Or Worse?
I was telling my husband’s cousin’s wife about the new foot massager/soaker I got for Christmas. Items to help de-stress feet seemed to be popular this Christmas. It was one of my favorite gifts.
That reminded Deb of the professional pedicure someone had given to her for a gift. “I didn’t think I would like people touching my feet but it was great,” she enthused. “I have a foot tub too but by the time you get it out, fill it, hook it up, then clean it up and put it away afterwards, you’re all stressed again.”
Uh huh. After I used my tub for the first time, I dumped it carelessly and ended up soaking my jeans and the kitchen rug. I had to change clothes. Aargh. I had to agree a pedicure would be even better.
This was a great reminder to me of two truths about stress: one person’s stress is someone else’s joy and excitement; and one person’s stress remedy is the next guy’s headache. I love getting my hair trimmed and styled because of the gentle massaging when the hairdresser shampoos my head. It is very relaxing. Other people say they can hardly stand to have people touch their head.
Stress is a real malady in today’s fast paced times. It is a modern disease—only studied and diagnosed as such since the 50’s. And it has real, physical results. The list of ills is long—some serious and life threatening, some just a pain in the neck or back, some emotional and mental. Heart attacks, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, and chronic headache can all come from over-simulation of the part of the nervous system that regulates heart rate, blood pressure and the digestive system (Dr. Joseph F. Smith Medical Library website, http://www.chclibrary.org/micromed/00066650.html). Depression and chronic fatigue can be triggered by long term stress.
Exercise is an excellent way to fight stress on many levels. Physical exertion helps the body produce endorphins. Here again, the thought that “I have to exercise today, I have to find time to fit it in,” can seem to add to stress. Dr. Melissa Stoppler, writer for the “About” website (http://stress.about.com/cs/copingskills/a/stress101a.htm) describes endorphins as brain chemicals (20 different types) which “respond to a variety of stimuli, and may be nature’s cure for high levels of stress.” They are complicated, but from what I understand, prolonged exercise can trigger the release of endorphins, which make you feel good (the “runner’s high”). Exercise usually means a change of pace, and that is good for reducing stress also. Meditation, massage, and relaxation techniques also help in the treatment of stress. Chocolate and chili peppers, though, can also lead to enhanced secretion of endorphins! (That’s why some people feel better—but guilty—eating chocolate.) And of course, too much sugar and fat can lead to obesity and stress (more about that in a minute.) That’s why I said it’s complicated. Much more can be said. Your stress should be discussed with your doctor, or do your own research.
Dr. Stoppler explains about the complicating factor of cortisol. “The so-called ‘stress hormone’ cortisol is released in the body during times of stress along with the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine that constitute the “fight or flight” response to a perceived threat. Following the stressful or threatening event, epinephrine and norepinephrine levels return to normal while cortisol levels can remain elevated over a longer time period. In fact, cortisol levels can remain persistently elevated in the body when a person is subjected to chronic stress,” she notes.
How does cortisol influence weight gain? “Cortisol has many actions in the body, and one ultimate goal of cortisol secretion is the provision of energy for the body,” Dr. Stoppler explains. “Cortisol stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism for fast energy, and stimulates insulin release and maintenance of blood sugar levels. The end result of these actions is an increase in appetite. Thus chronic stress, or poorly-managed stress, may lead to cortisol levels that stimulate your appetite, with the end result being weight gain or difficulty losing unwanted pounds.”
One reason I’m talking about stress in this column is to introduce you (and encourage you to try) a new e-mail subscription for those who read Another Way online. For over a year I have subscribed to a sweet little daily tip called “Today’s Stress Tip” written by G. Gaynor McTigue, author of a book, Why Make Yourself Crazy? The tips are practical and easy to implement (okay, they may take discipline), but they help in actually fighting daily stress. You can sign up for this free feature online at our website, http://www.thirdway.com/AW/stress.asp and a new tip will come to your e-mail box each weekday (Monday through Friday).
Whatever you do, take one concrete step this year to combat stress to live longer and better. Take a daily walk (even just four times a week is better than nothing), or meditate 15 minutes, or take a long soaker bath. Be good to yourself—its another way to be kind to others and honor our creator God.
For two free booklets, write for: “Easing the Burden of Stress” and “Getting Out of a Stress Mess” (for kids). Write to: Another Way, Box 22, Harrisonburg Va. 22802 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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