What is it about stress and stress management that everybody has their panties up in a bunch about now-a-days? I mean do we really think that our society today is more stressed out than back in the days when people were dying right and left, eaten by large animals, starving, being shot with arrows, etc.? I mean you’ve got to be kidding me right? Well yes and no. The fact is that people who are stressed out by today’s standards have more life limiting diseases such as cancer and heart disease and these are also the same people who aren’t living as long. This is in comparison to the average person who doesn’t face any of the stresses like those mentioned above and the present day people that do.
So what the heck is going on? Well there has been a lot of research done on the nature of stress and the mechanisms that were designed by God in our bodies to deal with it. Most people have heard of the fight-or-flight response and this turns out to be a major mechanism that affects our health negatively. So what has changed? This mechanism is certainly been helpful to our ancestors as they dealt with stress–a life preserving rather than life limiting process. Well it turns out that the kind of stress that we face today turns this system on almost as well as the other more immediate life threats but our bodies don’t absorb it in the same way and so it goes unnaturally unchecked and takes its toll. We therefore need a different type of stress management than we were naturally getting by running away from the large beast that was trying to eat us.
Exercise is one obvious type of stress management that helps to use up or absorb some of the sympathetic tone that is the “fight-or-flight” response to job and life stress. It does things like check the increased heart rate and the high amounts of insulin and other hormones in our system, and it gives us natural mood enhancing substances (endorphins) which counter the stress response as well. Another aspect is the cognitive response to stress that needs to be addressed.
Partly or emotional and mental health is addressed by exercise but it also needs to be addressed in terms of some of the behaviors that we choose to dull rather than correct our unhealthy stress response. We need to find correct ways of thinking rather than use substances like alcohol, nicotine, and illicit drugs to mask our low moods. We need to train our minds to think positively. We need to find alternative activities and vents for our feelings like art and social release. We need to eat better and be out side more to get the natural anti-depressants that are found there and are much healthier. Only then will we be approaching stress management in a healthy and life extending way.