Understanding/Managing Stress

Understanding the Stress Response
Chronic activation of this survival mechanism impairs health.

For two years in a row, the annual stress survey commissioned by the American Psychological Association has found that about 25% of North Americans are experiencing high levels of stress (rating their stress level as 8 or more on a 10-point scale), while another 50% report moderate levels of stress (a score of 4 to 7). Perhaps not surprising, given continuing economic instability in this country and abroad, concerns about money, work, and the economy rank as the top sources of stress for North Americans.

Stress isn't all bad, of course. In fact, like dark chocolate, small chunks here and there can be good for you, or at least give you a reason to get of bed in the morning. But chronic and severe stress can damage your body and mind, blocking the fluid communication to and from most organs — especially in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and in the limbic system, the brain's emotional center.
 These systems need to be running as smoothly as possible to maintain good health!!
Stress can be unpleasant, even when it is transient. A stressful situation — whether something environmental, such as a looming work deadline, or psychological, such as persistent worry about losing a job — can trigger a cascade of stress hormones that produce well-orchestrated physiological changes. A stressful incident can make the heart pound and breathing quicken. Muscles tense and beads of sweat appear.

This combination of reactions to stress is also known as the "fight-or-flight" response because it evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations. The carefully orchestrated yet near-instantaneous sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses helps someone to fight the threat off or flee to safety. Unfortunately, the body can also overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as traffic jams, work pressure, and family difficulties.
 Over time, repeated activation of the stress response takes a toll on the body. Research suggests that prolonged stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction. More preliminary research suggests that chronic stress may also contribute to obesity, both through direct mechanisms (causing people to eat more) or indirectly (decreasing sleep and exercise).
The autonomic nervous system has two components, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system:
The sympathetic nervous system functions like a gas pedal in a car. It triggers the fight-or-flight response, providing the body with a burst of energy so that it can respond to perceived dangers.
The parasympathetic nervous system acts like a brake. It promotes the "rest and digest" response, that calms the body down after the danger has passed.

After a distress signal is sent, the sympathetic nervous system is activated by sending signals through the autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands. These glands pump out the hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) into the bloodstream.
As epinephrine circulates through the body, it brings on a number of physiological changes:
  • Heart Rate goes up to increase blood flow to muscles and vital organs
  • Pulse rate and blood pressure go up
  • Respiration rate goes up allowing lungs to take in as much oxygen as possible with each breath
  • Extra oxygen is sent to the brain, increasing alertness
  • Sight, hearing, and other senses become sharper
  • Release of blood sugar (glucose) and fats from temporary storage sites in the body, supplying energy to all parts of the body 
These changes happen so quickly that people aren't aware of them. That's why people are able to jump out of the path of an oncoming car even before they think about what they are doing. As the initial surge of epinephrine subsides, the HPA axis, which consists of the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands
relies on a series of hormonal signals to keep the sympathetic nervous system — the "gas pedal" — pressed down.
If the brain continues to perceive something as dangerous, the brain activity will prompt the release of cortisol. The body thus stays revved up and on high alert. When the threat passes, cortisol levels fall.
The parasympathetic nervous system — the "brake" — then dampens the stress response.
 Many people are unable to find a way to put the "brakes" on stress. Chronic low-level stress keeps the "motor" idling too high for too long.
Stress that continues without relief can lead to a condition called distress -- a negative stress reaction. Distress can lead to physical symptoms including headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, and problems sleeping. Research suggests that stress also can bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases. 
Persistent epinephrine surges can damage blood vessels and arteries, increasing blood pressure and raising risk of heart attacks or strokes.
Elevated cortisol levels increases appetite so that people will want to eat more to obtain extra energy, increasing storage of unused nutrients as fat, inadvertently contributing to the buildup of fat tissue, and to weight gain.
Managing Stress
The most important component to managing stress is first being able to recognize and understand the Stress Response.
Once we recognize that we are experiencing the symptoms of the Stress Response it is very important to impliment techniques to stimulate the Relaxation Response!!! 
There is a myriad of information and suggestions out there to help you learn how to manage stress and anxiety, and itsimportant to find the combination of techniques that work for you!
The following few techniques, are easy and effective to help you stimulate your Parasympathic Nervous System Response and get into the state of "'rest and digest" or Relaxation Response.
Stimulation of the Vagus Nerve will help reduce the effects of the Stress Response!
The Vagus Nerve is an enormously important element of the Parasumpathetic Nervous System, calming you down by controlling your relaxation response.  It originates from the brainstem and extends down into the belly, connecting branches to the tongue,pharnyx, vocal chords, lungs,heart,stomach,intestines, and glands ttheat produce anti-stress enzymes and hormones (like Acetycholine, Proplactin,Vasopressin, Oxytocin) infuencing digestion, metabolism and of course the relaxation response. There are several ways you can indirectly stimulate your Vagus Nerve, but the most convenient and effective is Diaphramatic Breathing Techniques.
The following article from WebMD outlines an excellent list of stress busters!!
10 Relaxation Techniques That Zap Stress Fast
By Jeannette  Moninger
1. Meditate
A few minutes of practice per day can help ease anxiety. "Research suggests that daily meditation may alter the brain's neural pathways, making you more resilient to stress," says psychologist Robbie Maller Hartman, PhD, a Chicago health and wellness coach.
It's simple. Sit up straight with both feet on the floor. Close your eyes. Focus your attention on reciting -- out loud or silently -- a positive mantra such as "I feel at peace" or "I love myself." Place one hand on your belly to sync the mantra with your breaths. Let any distracting thoughts float by like clouds.
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2. Breathe Deeply
Take a 5-minute break and focus on your breathing. Sit up straight, eyes closed, with a hand on your belly. Slowly inhale through your nose, feeling the breath start in your abdomen and work its way to the top of your head. Reverse the process as you exhale through your mouth.
"Deep breathing counters the effects of stress by slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure," psychologist Judith Tutin, PhD, says. She's a certified life coach in Rome, GA.
3. Be Present
Slow down.
"Take 5 minutes and focus on only one behavior with awareness," Tutin says. Notice how the air feels on your face when you're walking and how your feet feel hitting the ground. Enjoy the texture and taste of each bite of food.
When you spend time in the moment and focus on your senses, you should feel less tense.
4. Reach Out
Your social network is one of your best tools for handling stress. Talk to others -- preferably face to face, or at least on the phone. Share what's going on. You can get a fresh perspective while keeping your connection strong.
5. Tune In to Your Body
Mentally scan your body to get a sense of how stress affects it each day. Lie on your back, or sit with your feet on the floor. Start at your toes and work your way up to your scalp, noticing how your body feels. "Simply be aware of places you feel tight or loose without trying to change anything," Tutin says. For 1 to 2 minutes, imagine each deep breath flowing to that body part. Repeat this process as you move your focus up your body, paying close attention to sensations you feel in each body part.
6. Decompress
Place a warm heat wrap around your neck and shoulders for 10 minutes. Close your eyes and relax your face, neck, upper chest, and back muscles. Remove the wrap, and use a tennis ball or foam roller to massage away tension.
"Place the ball between your back and the wall. Lean into the ball, and hold gentle pressure for up to 15 seconds. Then move the ball to another spot, and apply pressure," says Cathy Benninger, a nurse practitioner and assistant professor at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.
7. Laugh Out Loud
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A good belly laugh doesn't just lighten the load mentally. It lowers cortisol, your body's stress hormone, and boosts brain chemicals called endorphins, which help your mood. Lighten up by tuning in to your favorite sitcom or video, reading the comics, or chatting with someone who makes you smile.
8. Crank Up the Tunes
Research shows that listening to soothing music can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety. "Create a playlist of songs or nature sounds (the ocean, a bubbling brook, birds chirping), and allow your mind to focus on the different melodies, instruments, or singers in the piece," Benninger says. You also can blow off steam by rocking out to more upbeat tunes -- or singing at the top of your lungs!
9. Get Moving
You don't have to run in order to get a runner's high. All forms of exercise, including yoga and walking, can ease depression and anxiety by helping the brain release feel-good chemicals and by giving your body a chance to practice dealing with stress. You can go for a quick walk around the block, take the stairs up and down a few flights, or do some stretching exercises like head rolls and shoulder shrugs.
10. Be Grateful
Keep a gratitude journal or several (one by your bed, one in your purse, and one at work) to help you remember all the things that are good in your life.
"Being grateful for your blessings cancels out negative thoughts and worries," says Joni Emmerling, a wellness coach in Greenville, NC.
Use these journals to savor good experiences like a child's smile, a sunshine-filled day, and good health. Don't forget to celebrate accomplishments like mastering a new task at work or a new hobby.
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When you start feeling stressed, spend a few minutes looking through your notes to remind yourself what really matters.
Don't forget to add MindFit brain entrainment to your wellness regime!! The Benefits are amazing!!
The previous techniques are great do it yourself techniques to add to your regular
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