Stress is everywhere. Whether it's at the workplace, in the home, with the children, with finances or major decisions, dealing with an aging parent or dealing with a new puppy, stress has the potential to be life-altering in a damaging way. But that isn't inevitable, according to psychologist Patricia O'Brien, PhD, LP.
“Stress compromises your immune system,” said O’Brien. “When you feel stress, your system releases adrenalin for fight or flight. This, in turn, is going to compromise your immune system. Your immune system shuts down when adrenalin is present.”
When you are stressed, it’s as if the freeway system in your body is crowded with adrenalin, leaving no room for the immune system to do its work. For those under chronic stress, this can mean a life filled with colds that won’t go away, headaches, frequent upper respiratory infections or other health issues.
Interestingly, O’Brien said that the stress doesn’t have to be caused by a negative event, such as a loss of a job or a loved one. Even happy events – the birth of a baby or a joyous wedding – has the potential to create a level of stress that can take its toll on those involved.
A key is to know yourself well enough so you can recognize the warning signs of stress. Some common signs that you are stressed include:
- a loss of appetite or, conversely, uncontrolled eating binges
- the inability to sleep or feel rested
- a lack of overall energy or motivation, or, conversely, a general sense of unease and anxiety
- increasingly distracted, resulting in misplacing items such as your keys or your favorite pen; forgetting details, such as signing your child’s permission slip for a field trip, closing the garage door, etc.
While “talk therapy” or counseling is generally a recommended avenue for those under stress, it may not always be an option for someone who is out of work and without medical insurance. Or, for a new mother, who is home with her newborn and already operating on very little sleep and possibly reduced funds. For those cases, and for others like it, O’Brien recommends any technique you can do that allows you to rid your body and mind of the stress.
“Relaxation techniques can be very helpful,” she said. “Yoga is fantastic for helping a person to work through their stress.” The Pointes have many yoga studios – , , and – most of which offer great deals to try them out before committing to a long-term investment.
“Physical activity is excellent,” O’Brien added. “Go outside and work in the garden, go for a bike ride or a walk. Physical activity is better than sitting in the house and reading a book about how to relieve stress.
“You also want to watch what you eat – watch the caffeine and the chocolate. And while yoga can be expensive, everyone can walk. Breathing is important also. Concentrate on your breathing, in and out. Visualize the breath coming through your entire body; as you exhale, visualize breathing out the stress.”
And while trusted friends or comforting family members aren’t trained psychologists, they are another resource for working through your stress.
“If you don’t deal with your emotions, your emotions will deal with you,” O’Brien warned. She also shared that while you may have suffered a stressful loss many years ago, such as the loss of a parent, you will have to deal with that loss again and again on a new level when you reach or achieve new milestones in your life, such as the birth of a child, a marriage or the realization of a lifelong career goal.
Because of all of these dynamics and the importance of being free from as much stress as possible, today might be a good time to assess your situation and take steps to address the stress in your life.