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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Try Altering Perception, Reaction to Bust Out of Stress

Try Altering Perception, Reaction to Bust Out of Stress

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Sun, Apr. 18, 2004
By Dr. Mary Beth Ruiz

IT'S ONE of those mornings. You've slept 30 minutes past your alarm, and now you have to rush. Predictably, the kids pick today not to cooperate. At last, they're off to school and you rush onto the freeway, only to find that a multiple car accident has caused a major delay. You feel anxious and overwhelmed. And the day has just begun.We all know such stressful situations. In addition to being unpleasant, stress can have a profound impact on our overall health. Stress can provoke physiological responses that can lead to disease and deteriorating health.

Today's mild stomachache can become tomorrow's ulcer. There are at least two dozen common symptoms associated with stress: headache, heartburn, sleep problems (insomnia), angry outbursts, excessive alcohol intake, drug abuse, anxiety, even clinical depression. Chronic stress can suppress the immune system, making a person susceptible to infections. It can also increase the risk of heart disease.

Our bodies react to stress with what is called the fight-or-flight response. When we perceive a situation as threatening, our bodies begin a physiological chain reaction to determine whether we fight the perceived threat or take flight from it.

The pituitary gland starts a cascade of events, leading to the release of several hormones: epinephrine (adrenaline), adrenocorticotropic (ACTH), and cortisol. These hormones create a surge of energy that increases breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. Our body is now hyper-aroused and ready to respond.

This chain reaction was key to our survival when humans were cave dwellers. It gave primitive humans the needed edge to survive the threats of the wild.In the modern era, however, we continue to react to everyday problems with these primitive responses. The end result can be a constant state of distress, with a daily experience of emotional and physical exhaustion. What was a helpful survival instinct in the wild can become a hazard to our modern health.

The key to coping with stress is perception. You can't control everything that happens to you, but you can control how you perceive it, and how you react to it. Maintaining the right attitude in the midst of a trying situation can make all the difference.Additionally, you can develop daily strategies that make stress-busters a part of your everyday routine:

  • Get some exercise: a walk after lunch and/or before dinner, and take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet with moderate, regular meals and avoid sudden jolts of sugar.
  • Try to see the big picture: many stressful situations seem trivial or even funny in hindsight.
  • Find something soothing: music, a tranquil place, a magazine with beautiful pictures, a calming book.
  • Take time for something you enjoy: a warm bath or shower, gardening, a massage, a movie, a hike, a game of basketball, a trip to the ballpark.
  • Try relaxation techniques: meditation, deep breathing, biofeedback, yoga.
  • Find something you can laugh about: a comic strip, a book, a TV or radio show, a movie.
  • Laughter, even if unrelated to the stressful event, can be the best medicine in a difficult situation.

If you don't take control of your response to stressful situations, they will take control of you.

Dr. Ruiz is a licensed psychologist who works at the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center. She specializes in clinical and health psychology.

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