Each day you face multiple demands, such as taking care of loved ones, making financial decisions or developing priorities at work. Your body treats these demands as threats. How you respond to these demands will play a big part in your overall happiness and how long you live.
When you encounter a perceived threat – for example, a large dog barks at you during your morning walk, or you receive an upsetting text or email from a family member or friend — your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body and releases hormones. The release of these hormones causes increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure and boosts your energy supplies. These hormones also increase sugars in the bloodstream and alter your immune system. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear.
Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal and your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities. But when stressors are always present and you constantly feel under attack your body is never in a relaxed state. This prolonged activity can cause several chronic diseases such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, sleep disorders, weight gain, and memory impairment.
Learning how to handle stressors that are present in your life is extremely important. Tapping into each moment in life and meeting it with calmness, to create a balance between strength and inner peace, will result in a happier you.
Exercise and proper nutrition are a must! If you are struggling to incorporate both of these into your daily routine, seek out help from professionals. Degreed, qualified, exercise specialists will help you increase physical activity, reduce sedentary behaviour and improve your overall strength. A registered dietitian will help get your diet on track and offer invaluable expertise that you can follow for life. The importance of both exercise and healthy eating cannot be emphasized enough.
It is also very helpful to discover your calm factor. For some, this is listening to quiet music, enjoying a relaxing hot bath, or a sipping on a hot cup of tea. For others it is going for a walk (or run), attending a yoga class, or talking to a family member.
When big changes happen in life – such as retirement, moving, caring for a sick or elderly family member, or dealing with a death – you may want to seek out a mindfulness program. Mindfulness programs help pave the way by encouraging you to confront rather than suppress your difficulties and offer coping methods. Mindfulness programs are also recommended for those with chronic stress, depression, anxiety, pain and sleep problems.
Actively seek out and pay attention to what triggers stress in your life and learn what calms your body.
Janet Cranston is director of health and fitness, Reh-Fit Centre.