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Stress, The Final Frontier

Captain’s log, Stardate 2257…the emergence of a Klingon vessel forced us to engage warp–drive before our coordinates had been set, and we were sucked into a black hole. When the Enterprise came to rest, Spock announced that we appeared to be in orbit over the Earth in the year 2018.

We beamed down. Spock was fascinated with the human’s behavior. “They seem to be acting like those Earth creatures you call ants,” he observed, “but unlike the ants they do not seem to be behaving in a logical manner.”

The computer’s data bank had not revealed this insight about humans of the twenty–first century and I began to wonder if we had been thrown into a parallel universe. Dr. McCoy ran the scanner and verified that they were indeed humanoid life forms…

Can you imagine what alien beings would make of us all racing around down here? We specialize in this thing called stress. Stress is a very ancient human response. It is the mechanism by which our ancestors survived. But, today things are different, I mean, how often do you encounter a prehistoric monster on your way to the supermarket?

The problem is that our stress response is still the same as the one our ancestors were equipped with. It’s a handy thing to have when faced with a serious situation, but our bodies have a Pavlovian stress response to anything perceived as threatening; like being late for work, getting cut off by some clown in traffic, meeting with the boss, arguing with someone, and so on. This can put us in an almost constant form of fight/flight and it negatively affects the immune system and exhausts glands, organs and the nervous system.

Prehistoric people may not have been in danger more than a few times a week, so their nervous systems had time to recover. Running away also helped to dissipate most of the stress hormones. But, being the civilized souls that we are, can you imagine pulling the car over, getting out and running away when you see the ominous flashing blue lights in your rear-view mirror? Our body would like us to run, but instead we sit and seethe politely, stress chemicals coursing around the body damaging arteries and exhausting glands like the adrenals, thyroid and pancreas.

There are three types of stress: mental stress from positive emotions like excitement or anticipation, and negative emotions like fear, anger and frustration or factors in your life which cannot be changed or avoided, physical stress which includes injury and physical exhaustion, and chemical stress which includes the body’s reaction to drugs, environmental pollutants and viral and bacterial toxins.

What we choose to eat and drink also helps or adds to the body’s stress burden. Too much sugar, alcohol, coffee and junk foods, or insufficient water and healthy foods—will affect our resistance to stress.

It is crucial to make time for ourselves. It is also important to remember to breathe! Deep, relaxed breathing helps the nervous system and enables us to cope with stress. Another important strategy is to find ways to ‘disengage’ the brain. Do you have things you love to do where you lose all track of time? Make a list of hobbies or activities you enjoy where that happens, and do some of them every day.

Get regular exercise! Like your pre–historic ancestor running away from the predator…exercise helps your body to dissipate damaging stress hormones.

The basic nerve first–aid nutrients are B complex, lecithin, amino acids, fatty acids, and numerous minerals especially magnesium. The increased neurological activity that creates and accompanies stress uses up nutrients like a giant vacuum. Hans Selye explained fight/flight as the mechanism whereby, “The body borrows nutrients from one tissue to repair another.”

There are many other nutrients and herbs which help the body cope with stress, or act as adaptogens. A naturopath can help to find the right ones for you.

Ultimately, the only cure for stress is learning how to react to what life throws at us in a less damaging way. “Life is 10% what happens to us, and 90% how we react to it.” Until we are able to change our reactions, the best we can do is replace what stress takes out, and repair what stress damages.

A good laugh can go a long way towards healing a stressed body, mind and immune system. So make a date with some fun friends and go laugh yourself silly!

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