Your Health

Reduce your stress

Reduce your stress

BY JOEL SCHLESINGER
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, January / February 2011

Many people use alcohol as a means to manage stress in their lives. Or
they smoke to cope with their daily challenges. Others eat sweets or just
simply overeat. As previously mentioned, all of these have health risks.

Other, healthier ways of managing stress exist. And for the most part,
most of us already have the stress management tools in place because on
a daily basis we all have to deal with stress, says Marion Cooper, program
specialist with the Winnipeg Health Region's Mental Health program.

"Stress is a normal part of life, and we all manage a certain amount
of stress on a daily basis, but there are life events that put on additional
stress."

Some of these events are good: getting married, having children,
studying for exams, starting a new job or buying a new home.

"Then there are experiences that aren't necessarily positive experiences
that are stressful. It might be the death of a loved one, losing a job, a
relationship break-up."

The bottom line is that stress is unavoidable. But too much stress is.

"Excessive stress over a long period of time can have a negative impact
on your physical and emotional well-being," Cooper says.

Several studies have demonstrated that stress actually increases our risk
of heart attack and stroke. A 2002 study of Japanese men and women,
published in Circulation, found that individuals with perceived stress -
those individuals who actually felt they were stressed - had an increased
risk of stroke or heart attack.

One of the culprits behind the negative impact stress has on our health
is a hormone called cortisol. This hormone along with another one called
epinephrine are flight or fight response chemicals that help get us ready
for danger.

"We know that if you've got chronically elevated cortisol levels as a
result of constantly responding to stress, it can lead to changes in your
body's chemistry, such as an increase in storing fat," Cooper says. This, in
turn, increases our chances of becoming obese, which leads to a whole
host of potential illnesses from diabetes to heart disease to cancer.

Furthermore, high levels of both chemicals impair our immune system's
ability to ward off infection. Some research has shown an indirect link
between high levels of stress chemicals and the development of certain
cancers.

A 2006 study in Nature Reviews Cancer, for instance, found stress
hormones may play a role in the growth of some malignant tumours.

What all this data boils down to for the average person is that we all
need to learn how to manage our stress in a healthy way. Eat well, get a
good night's sleep, exercise and have a social support network, Cooper
says.

And while there are some stresses we can't avoid or control, there
are others that we can control or even eliminate.

"Do an inventory of everything adding unhelpful amounts of stress to
your life, and that ultimately leads to simplifying things," Cooper says. "Sometimes we have this feeling that we need to be managing so many
things: being successful at our jobs, being a good parent, volunteering and
taking care of aging parents."

But we need to take time to do activities that we enjoy, she says. And
when you feel your stress levels getting too high, it can be helpful to step
back and try to be mindful of the big picture.

"Part of what goes on when we're feeling stressed is we can get stuck
in thinking traps - ruminating over our problem," Cooper says. "The
opposite of rumination is being more mindful of the moment."

While that often seems difficult in the heat of the moment, Cooper says
finding a calm headspace can be as simple as focusing on your breathing
for few minutes. "You'd be surprised how that alone can help you focus
in on the moment and tune out your worries of the future."

For more information, visit www.cmha.ca.

Wave

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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