How to Prevent Stress-Related Illness

Stress and cortisol are two evil twins that creep into our lives and destroy all that is good for our health. The stress hormone, cortisol, is a serious menace and has been declared “public enemy number one” by many scientists and physicians. Scientists have known for years that elevated cortisol levels: interfere with learning and memory lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease…the list goes on and on and it doesn’t get any better.

Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels also increase risk for depression, mental illness, and lower life expectancy. Two separate studies were recently published in Science magazine linking elevated cortisol levels as a potential trigger for mental illness and decreased resilience. Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands as part of the fight-or-flight mechanism – in response to fear or stress. The fight-or-flight mechanism is part of the general adaptation syndrome defined in 1936 by Canadian biochemist Hans Selye of McGill University in Montreal. He published his findings in a simple seventy-four-line article in Nature, in which he defined two types of “stress”: eustress (good stress) and distress (bad stress).

Stress is part of our lives, and like it or not – won’t simply vanish by wishing for a better life. Whether the stress is caused by something you’re not prepared for, because you have insufficient money management skills, or a myriad of other things, you need to understand that you CAN do something about it. For your sake (and in most cases your family’s sake) you MUST.

We all experience stressful situations at times in our lives, but it’s how we deal with that stress that shapes our experiences afterwards. For instance, let’s say that you were laid off suddenly and the holidays are right around the corner. After the shock wears off, the anxiety sets in quickly, and the symptoms of financial stress could cause depression, anxiety, and other illnesses that could actually make it very difficult to find another job quickly, if at all. Deep breath…or maybe a couple of them…you will be able to find a job faster if you’re focused and diligent and you will interview much better with a clear head.

Instead of ‘flight’, try a positive method of utilizing ‘fight’ and sign up for unemployment services if you’re having difficulties with immediately finding new employment. Then take some time to freshen up your resume and spend a few hours a week searching for new prospects.

No matter the situation, it could be a long, hard road, but that stress could loom over you until you’ve conquered whatever may be causing your stress. Here are a few Tips for stress relief:

    • Exercise
    • Deep Breathing
    • Meditation
    • Go for a walk for some fresh air
    • Talk to someone
    • Listen to music
    • Listen to soothing sounds
    • Eat a healthy snack
    • Stretch for about 10 minutes
    • Use a swing Chi back motion machine
    • Take up a Yoga class, or do Yoga in your home
    • Ride your bike
    • Walk your dog
    • Go for swim
    • Go on a hike in the great outdoors
    • Take the stairs instead of riding the elevator/escalator
    • While watching TV – some setups
    • Make a healthy meal plan and stick to it
    • Consult Your Doctor

Be proactive and confront the source of your stress. Spend some of your time working towards changing why you feel stressed about something. We’ve all heard that we should take a proactive approach to our health and wellness, well this also IS about your health and well-being. And, based on our previous list, you CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

One key thing to remember is that we must be active – I’m not talking about turning into a marathon runner or gym rat – but I am referring to how you must take a proactive stance and be active in your decision to make a better life for yourself.

Financial Stress – lets just say something about the stress that we all feel when it comes to our finances. In order to achieve peace of mind about day to day living – is start with end with the end in mind. Start by writing up a budget and get your finances down on paper. See what you make, what your monthly responsibilities are, and what your debts are. Even getting it all on the page will help you confront it, and you be able to stop guessing where you are. Then you can take action and come up with a better, more workable and favorable plan.

Take small steps. Make a budget, and take a break before you come back to tally up the totals. Once you do get some numbers down, don’t panic! You are putting an action plan together, and the plan will help you get control of your finances, and your life. Remember, your health is your most valuable asset and you need to take the time to confront the stress, write up a plan, and then go about making the changes you need to feel at peace about your finances.

In my book Healthy Habits of Highly Productive Employees, I talk about a few tips to keep you healthy – even when you are in a hurray. The types of things that we put into our bodies can cause – or reduce our stress. More sugar, processed chemicals, the bad kind of fats cause more stress. Less sugars, core nutrients, and the right kind of fats in our diet helps us to reduce stress on our bodies and our minds, and helps us achieve optimal health.

In the book I show several Self Evaluation Forms – and one them challenges the reader to start making a clear overview of where they are right now in regards to their overall general health. They are able to rate themselves in five different levels: Strongly Agree, Yes – Agree, Unsure, No – Disagree, Strongly Disagree. Here are a few of the questions:

  • I am aware that any movement-oriented activity, even done in moderation is beneficial
  • On average, I participate in physical activity three or more days per week
  • I incorporate at least 30 minutes of physical activity into my day for most days of the week
  • I enjoy being physical active

These are only a few examples of the questions we should be asking ourselves every day. And, when we are honest with ourselves we can start to see a clear pattern of some areas that need improvement. The point is that we need to actively be proactive about doing something about our health and well-being!

In another section of Healthy Habits, I have the reader start to think about the goals they would like to accomplish, and continue writing down some of the goals and objectives they would like to reach. A few more examples of the questions include:

    1. What are the three reasons why you would like to become more physically active?
    2. What results would you like to see 12 weeks from today?
    3. If there was one thing you could do (that you are not doing right now) that if you did it on a regular basis, you know it would make an impact on your health and wellness, what would it be?
    4. If you had one wish relating to improving your health and fitness, what would it be?
    5. What results would you like to see in six weeks?
    6. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being low and 10 being high) how would you rate your commitment to physical fitness?
    7. Are there others pressuring you to become more physically active? If so, who?
    8. In what ways would being more physically active benefit you and your family?
    9. What personal, health, or social problems have poor physical conditions caused for you?
    10. To date, what is the biggest fitness success you have experienced?

Yes, you CAN have a better life and you CAN reduce your stress, but you have to take action and control – before it controls you. Good luck in your quest for better health and wellness, and reducing your stress levels – especially during the most stressful time of the year during the holidays!


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