Stressed about stress? You’re not alone. According to a 2014 poll conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, 49 percent of Americans suffered a major stressful event or experience in the past year.i
Stress is not, by definition, a bad thing. In fact, it’s necessary for survival and growth. But overly stressful events and chronic stress can have serious effects on both mental and physical health. The health risks linked to unchecked stress are too many to list, but here are three major ways our health can suffer when we don’t find healthy ways to deal with stress. (The good news is that there are effective ways to turn stress around, and in this article I’ll outline some effective ways to do just that.)
- Heart disease. It’s no surprise that stressful events can cause heart attack. In fact there’s a term for this – stress cardiomyopathy. But chronic, unchecked stress can also contribute to heart disease. It can even cancel out your heart-healthy eating choices. In a recent study, researchers interviewed women to find out whether they’d experienced stressful events the day before. Half the women then ate a saturated fat–laden breakfast, while the other half had a breakfast with healthier monounsaturated fats. The researchers then tested the women’s blood for markers of inflammation and other heart-disease risk factors. The non-stressed women had better blood test results after a healthier meal than after the unhealthy one. But for women who had experienced stress, the benefits were erased. Even after eating the healthier meal, their blood tests made it look like they had just eaten a plateful of saturated fats.ii
- Weakened immunity. Inflammation plays a role in immunity too. When we are stressed, our immune systems are less able to ward off invaders. Sheldon Cohen, PhD, a pioneer in the field of stress and disease, has found in his research that prolonged stress is linked with ineffective immune cells that are unable to regulate inflammation. And this inability to keep inflammation in check makes the body more likely to fall victim to colds and flu viruses.iii
- Mood disorders. Chronic stress is a major contributor to mood disorders. It increases the body’s production of hormones like cortisol while decreasing neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin and dopamine. Keeping those levels in balance is essential to regulating emotions and mood. Another way stress effects mood is by changing the brain’s ability to make new neural connections.iv
Making the Best of Stress
There are two types of stress. One is distress – the overwhelming, bad stress. The other is eustress, or good stress. With eustress, we feel in control and confident in our ability to meet the challenges ahead of us. Whenever possible, we should try to shift from distress into eustress. Here are some ways to get there.
- Change your inner dialogue. Use affirmations like, “I can solve this dilemma,” instead of negative or defeatist self-talk.
- Cut out environmental stressors. They may seem unrelated, but environmental stressors (toxins and the electromagnetic fields from our ubiquitous electronic devices, for example) contribute to the body’s stress burden. Give yourself a break from them whenever you can.
- Take a walk. Research continues to show that getting out into nature has countless benefits, including reducing stress.
- Look to homeopathy. Since stress can damage so many lives at so many levels, I formulated Dr. King’s Stress Control. It’s an extensive formula of 24 HPUS* ingredients in three potencies, including the rare LM. It temporarily relieves symptoms due to mental, emotional or physical stress: nervous tension, body aches, restlessness, irritability, oversensitivity, sleeplessness, melancholy, and fatigue.
- Try my de-stressing Hands On Healing Techniques. Certain self-care methods, described in my book and shared on our website, can quickly reset your stress receptors and enhance your whole-person health.
Stress is an important (though sometimes troublesome) part of life. The good news is that with these tools, you can turn it around and improve not only your emotional well-being, but your mental and physical health as well.
*Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States (recognized by the FDA)
ii Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Fagundes CP, Andridge R, et al. Depression, daily stressors and inflammatory responses to high-fat meals: when stress overrides healthier food choices. Mol Psychiatry. 2016 Sep 20. doi: 10.1038/mp.2016.149. [Epub ahead of print] iii https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120402162546.htm
iv Calabrese F, Molteni R, Racagni G, Riva MA. Neuronal plasticity: a link between stress and mood disorders. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2009;34 Suppl 1:S208-S216.