Modern life is full of hassles, demands, deadlines and frustrations. For many, stress has become a way of life. In small doses, it is certainly good. It helps to perform under pressure and motivates to do the best.  However, if constantly running in emergency mode, the human body pays a price. It becomes crucial to bring the nervous system back into balance.

Stress is the body’s way of protecting from danger. It is what kept people alive through the caveman days. When a threat is perceived, the nervous system responds by releasing stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones prepare and excite the body for emergency action.

  • Heart pounds faster.
  • Muscles tighten.
  • Blood pressure rises.
  • Breath quickens.
  • Senses become sharper.

These physical changes certainly increase strength and stamina. They speed reaction time and enhance focus. To clarify, a person is prepared to fight or flee from danger.

This is a fantastic defense mechanism when faced with a life-or-death situation. However, chronic stress in today’s society can lead to serious health problems. Human bodies aren’t designed to face ongoing daily stressors.

Bodies certainly can’t distinguish between physical life-threatening stressors and psychological stressors. The body reacts to a busy schedule, arguments and bills the same way as facing a grizzly bear. Have a lot of worries and responsibilities? Your emergency stress response may be active most of the time. The more this system is activated, the easier it turns on. And, the harder it becomes to turn off.

Long term stress exposure can disrupt the body.

  • Increase blood pressure.
  • Suppress the immune system.
  • Increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Contribute to infertility.
  • Speed the aging process.

It can also ‘rewire’ the brain. This can certainly lead to anxiety and depression vulnerabilities.

Health problems such as chronic pain, digestive issues, heart disease, sleep disturbances, autoimmune diseases, depression and obesity are all caused by or exacerbated by stress.

This good stress, bad stress article continues into the next three weeks of New Year, New You. Stress management techniques to explore this week is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation. When the body is under stress muscles tighten, breathing becomes shallower and quickens. The heart rate is faster and digestion even shuts down.

The goal of progressive muscle relaxation, or PMR, is to get this response to reverse. Its goal is to relax the muscles, slow and deepen the breathing, reduce the heart rate, and aid digestion. And, to do this, tense and relax a series of muscles throughout the body in a specific order. This is done while mentally focusing on breathing and the feeling of relaxation brought to the muscle groups. Benefits include decreased blood pressure, heart rate and headaches. And, a reduction in general anxiety and overall improvement in quality of life with regular practice.