The worst thing you can do when you feel stressed out is to stress out about it, says Dr. Joel Reginelli, a cardiologist at Highland District Hospital in Hillsboro.
But not all stress is bad, according to Reginelli and Dr. Ramesh Saivani, a Hillsboro psychiatrist.
“The body’s reaction to stress – when a swift getaway or super strength is needed – called a fight-or-flight response, can save your life in an emergency,” Saivani said. “Also, mental or emotional stress can help when we need motivation to move forward in some aspect of our career or personal lives. But too much of anything, including stress, can have a negative, long-term effect; especially if we don’t have the tools to manage it.
“Our bodies respond to ‘good’ or ‘bad’ stress in the same way. What is good about stress is that it gives us temporary strength or an energy boost, but it’s bad when we constantly push on the stress gas pedal.”
Reginelli said stress is a natural reaction to stressors or situations that people don’t feel they have control over.
“Fight or flight is the body’s way of dealing with these potential threats,” he said. “But, in our fast-paced lifestyles we have forgotten how to turn off that rush of hormones that enable us to protect ourselves, and too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing. Additionally, most of our stressors are not physical, but psychological. Alcohol, food and cigarettes are substances often used to ‘take flight’ from stressors, but ultimately they can also impact our health.”
For most people, the item farthest on their to-do list during stressful times is one that could actually have a significant impact on their health and mood: relaxing.
“Society as a whole has changed,” said Dr. Reggina Yandila of Adena Health Systems Internal Medicine. “With more people, there’s so much stress now,” she said, giving just a few examples of the stresses she has seen in patients. “Most people bring their work home, which can make it hard for them to shut down.”
Women, in particular, she said, often “feel guilty” when balancing their responsibilities as a mother and in the workforce.
Teachers, she added, have more requirements than in the past. And, likewise, children have “so much more to learn,” Yandila said. “They don’t have as much time to … relax themselves.”
Yandila also said that increased drug use can also affect stress levels within a family.
“All of these things just add up,” she said.
Overall, Yandila said that when it comes to relaxing, today’s society is doing “poorly.” And that trend can impact a person’s health, especially in terms of stress or difficulty sleeping.
Yandila said that such lifestyles can possibly have higher risks for certain types of cancer, stroke or heart disease.
In addition, people can find it more difficult to stop smoking or drinking. They can also have difficulties with memory, focus, mood, and blood sugar levels. She added that a person’s chances of getting the common cold can even increase.
For people struggling with depression, not taking time to relax can “make it harder to break that cycle,” she said. “Your muscle, mind, and body” are all affected.”
She offered several tips and techniques for relaxing, including: stretching or doing yoga, running, meditating, writing down feelings, becoming more organized, listening to music, reading the Bible or attending church, dancing or reading.
“Sometimes, just walking and talking with someone can make you feel better,” Yandila said. She also suggested making sure to get enough sunlight.
Prior to stressful situations, thinking of “something good and happy” can also be helpful, Yandila added.
Above all, she said, people need to “find (their) ‘me time.’” And, she added that taking that time to “calm the body,” can help individuals “be able to focus on (their) challenges” and help their “overall mood.”
And while that can be a difficult task for many, Yandila said the benefits of relaxation are many and varied.
Taking time to “de-stress helps reduce their risk facts. In addition, it can help improve depression,” Yandila said.
Chronic stress can lead to health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. Left unchecked it can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior, according to Reginelli.
According to research completed at the Mayo Clinic, common signs of stress can be broken into three categories: body, mood and behavior.
Body signals can include headache, fatigue, muscle tension or pain, chest pain, stomach upset, change in sex drive, and insomnia.
Mood signals can include anxiety, lack of motivation or focus, restlessness, irritability or anger, and sadness or depression.
Behavior signals can be overeating or under-eating, drug or alcohol abuse, angry outbursts, tobacco use, and social withdrawal.
“Take control of your stress before it makes you sick,” Reginelli said. “Getting outdoors in the fresh air helps to clear our thinking. We can let go of our racing minds when we focus on nature around us.”
Reach Sarah Allen at 937-393-3456, ext. 1680, or on Twitter @SarahAllenHTG.