06 November 2008

Manage your stress

Managing stress is the key to maintaining good health, says Dr Kevin Lentin, Health and Lifestyle Consultant.

“I’m so stressed” should really be the title of a new national anthem. Virtually every conversation includes some reference to stress. But are we really as stressed as we think we are?

What is stress?
Stress is more of a concept than a real entity. To some extent, it’s about perception. Because we’re different, each of us reacts differently to situations. The most trying of circumstances could be easily handled and create no perceived sensation of stress for a one person; another individual, under the same conditions, could find it virtually impossible to cope without the help of medication and ongoing psychotherapy.

Clearly, therefore, it comes down to the way we handle the stimulus.

The critical aspect about stress is whether the body is able to manage, from a physiological perspective, the bombardment by stressful stimuli. The human body is an extremely sophisticated self-healing organism and, under normal circumstances, it’s more than able to produce the hormones and enzymes that assist us in protecting our health from the negative impact of stressful stimuli. The problems begin when the stress load exceeds the body’s ability to cope, and we begin to experience symptoms.

Early warning system

Usually the initial symptoms are felt more as a state of ‘dis-ease’: perhaps fatigue, spastic colon, irritable bowel, headaches, muscular tension, lower back pain, lack of motivation etc. Generally the approach to this state of ‘dis-ease’ is to suppress the symptoms with some form of pain killer, anti-inflammatory or anti-spasmodic medication; some may turn to comfort food, alcohol, stimulants like coffee or sugar, or even non prescription drugs, just to escape the negative feelings produced by the repetitive bombardment of stress.

By suppressing the symptoms, stress is simply driven deeper into the cellular system of the body, until the ability to compensate is overridden, and this is where one experiences disease, perhaps in the form of high blood pressure, an ulcer, chronic infections due to a lowered immune system, or even a heart attack or cancer.

Ignoring the signs
One of the common comments I hear in practice is: “I thought it would go away,” which means that symptoms are ignored for way too long before action is taken. Very often the body’s cry for help goes unheeded until it’s too late. It’s a sobering thought that in one third of cases, the very first sign of heart disease is death!

How do we take action to avoid becoming stress statistics?

The first thing is to realise is that there is simply no getting away from the fact that there are going to be pressures, curved balls and traumas in life, and that change is inevitable. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, the body functions extremely well under the up-regulation of the stress hormones; we think more clearly, memory is better, energy is better, motivation is better. It’s only when there’s overload that the negative physiological effects become evident.

Managing the load
The key, then, is to manage life more effectively.

This may require something that could be termed a ‘mind state recalibration’ - prioritising stresses; and making a call on what has a right to be called a source of stress.

We are programmed for stress from an early age. We learn from our parents about how stressful life is – the traffic, going shopping, crowds, cooking, relationships… the list goes on. So, because of our programming, we perceive all of this as stress-laden. If there’s no milk: “I’m so stressed,” if there isn’t the right colour underwear: “I’m so stressed”. Eventually the load becomes more difficult to manage.

But much of what we label as stressful should never have been elevated to the status of being a stressor, and this is where lifestyle management comes into the picture.

Practical steps
If one manages life appropriately, I contend that there should be no such thing as stress. This means:

  • a certain amount of exercise, both aerobic and less explosive exercises, like yoga or stretching
  • adequate nutritional intake to provide the raw materials that the body requires
  • enough rest
  • time for fun and essentially a nonstop desire to enjoy life
  • techniques such as meditation, affirmations, visualisations and neuro-linguistic programming are extremely effective in the management of life

It really boils down to the importance of taking control of all aspects of living. Too often our lives lurch from one crisis to the next. There’s no planning or prioritising and it sometimes becomes a case of the ‘tail wagging the dog’.

Health coaching is not rocket science. We are all familiar with most of the concepts, but because of the way we have allowed ourselves to become so cellularly programmed, we’ve become stuck in the stress rut and therefore find it difficult to extricate ourselves. The results of not addressing the problem can be catastrophic. Take the time do a stress audit on yourself and if you feel your system is losing the battle, perhaps it’s a time to consider getting a helping hand.

Dr Kevin Lentin
B.Soc.Sc.(Natal), D.C.(USA), Dip. Appl. Clinical Nutrit. (Aust.), AEA (Wynberg, Cape) Chiropractor / Health and Lifestyle Consultant / Intermediate Life Support Paramedic

Integrated health expert


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