A statement by the well-known mind/body physician, Herb Benson, M.D. says that 60-90% of all visits to the doctor’s office are due to stress. We all hear about stress, experience stress, but what exactly is stress? Most of us think of stress as the emotional conflicts we experience in our daily lives, but our emotions are just one category or one type of “event” that can cause us to experience stress.
In order for us to survive in our ever-changing environments, our bodies are designed to adapt and it does so through a series of biochemical reactions. These chemical reactions are natural and necessary, but they are the wear and tear of living that we call stress.
Here’s an example I like to share in relations to because it gives a clear vision of this principle. When I was living in New York City, I drove my little stick shift through the stop and go traffic. Imagine the wear and tear (stress) on the clutch.
There are many events that might cause similar stress to our bodies. Some may surprise you.
- Excess Exertion (such as too much exercise or lack of sleep)
- Trauma or Injuries
- Allergies and Immune Insults
- Reproduction Related Events (monthly cycle, pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, etc.)
While the common nature of these events does not sound encouraging, there is some good news. If we have a stress response that is short term, like when the phone rings and the nurse tells you that your child had been vomiting, our bodies do just fine.
It is the prolonged stress, like anticipating for two whole weeks a root canal or that pesky “annual office evaluation.” That does us in! This extended stress affects our digestive system, immune system, cardiovascular and even reproductive systems. Couple this with poor eating habits or insufficient sleep, and we are not happy campers.
While excessive or chronic stress is definitely not good for our health, we need stress adaptation for survival, so it is actually a very good thing. How this adaptation takes place is by way of specialized hormones from our adrenal glands, located in our kidneys. They change our heart rate, blood pressure, lung capacity, and a host of other functions, for our survival. However, these hormones, if secreted too much or too often can suppress our immune, digestive and reproductive systems and even damage our cardiovascular system. Chronic stress is one very large reason why some of us have fertility problems.
So how can we make friends with stress? The answer is good old moderation. Remember being told “all things in moderation leads to a healthy body.” It is true. We do not have to learn to do anything exotic to reduce stress, we just need to balance our lives and avoid excess.
Nevertheless, there is the rub, given modern life. We are all excessing more and more and moderating less. For a great book on this subject, check out Why Zebras Don’t Have Ulcers by Dr. Robert Sapolsky. It is a very witty and informative book. Laughter, as we know, is “our best medicine.” It is also a great stress reducer.