Good vs. Bad

Living without any stress is impossible unless you’re retired on an island, sipping coconuts while “Don’t Worry, be Happy” plays in the background.   Eventually, that could become stressful by sheer boredom. However, some stress is good for you.

The good stress is that sudden burst of energy, the release of endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, that chemical cocktail we feel with our first kiss, getting the promotion, or our favorite team winning the playoffs.  Good stress, known as “eustress”, helps.  It’s the fight-or-flight hormones our bodies produce.  Our hearts beat faster, our senses heighten, allowing us to meet those deadlines and get things done.

Too Much

Studies show that the good stress is beneficial to us.  It strengthens our immune system. People are shown to recover quicker from surgery after experiencing some stress compared to those who had little or no stress. Stress helps protect against Alzheimer due to brain cells working at maximum performance.  Because it suppresses the production of estrogen good stress may aid in the prevention of breast cancer.  There is no doubt these short-term stress responses are beneficial.

But what happens when the short-term becomes the long haul?  We are now managing more than ever with the constant challenges of our daily life; personal finances, a flat tire, the computer crashing, care-giving an elderly parent, or the interruptions resulting from a stolen purse.  The list piles up as we turn to the daily news with reports on the economy, traffic, pollution, and now you are in a state of what is called the “superstress”.   You’ve become overloaded not just emotionally but physically and mentally as well.  The “superstress” chemical cocktail has a blend of hormones including glucocorticoids, adrenaline,  and cortisol.  This can wreck havoc on your body; heart rate increases, blood vessels and pupils dilate, belly fat increases raising your chances of cardiovascular disease, brain cells are destroyed, depression, and increase in inflammation which can weaken your bones by preventing calcium to be absorbed.  One-fourth of all drugs prescribed in the U.S. go to the treatment of stress.  It can also contribute to other harmful behaviors, such as addiction, alcoholism, and obesity.

What to do?  There are several ways to help you stress less.  Start with a gratitude journal.  According to research by Robert Emmons, Ph.D. people who journal are 25% happier, sleep 30 minutes longer and have 10 percent lower blood pressure.   Breathing is good; we tend to be shallow breathers especially at times of stress.  Slow, long deep breaths help lower blood pressure, increase immune function and produce more energy.  Consider using supplements such as Omega-3, B-complex, St. John’s Wort and my favorite, Chocolate.  It contains a substance called anandamide, the bliss molecule.  The recommended dose is to eat 2 ounces of dark chocolate that is 60 to70 percent cocoa daily.  Diet is crucial.   What you put in body can actually stress your body more if it has to work overtime to detoxify from bad food choices.  Whole foods including berries, bright colored produce and vegetables, whole grains and salmon are good selections.   According to a study by London psychologists, the ritual of putting the kettle on for tea can calm you down.  Strive to drink a cup of green tea daily which helps calm and relax the body.  Move!  Dance, walk, join a Zumba class, or pick up weights.  Exercise sustains your body.  Although it can be stressful it is in a nourishing way.  The lungs get oxygen, the muscles receive nutrients, your metabolism revs up and the immune system “cleans house”.  Last but not least, meditate or do yoga.  Many studies have shown that our genes will change their response to stress with daily prayer or similar therapies.  Be mindful and start training your body to respond more positively to stress.  Managing your stress can greatly improve your life. Namaste!

Comments (3)

  • I enjoyed reading this, Kathryn. It’s always good to remember the many choices we have for dealing with the “superstress” and the situations that provoke it. I especially like knowing that dark chocolate is on the beneficial side. (then, I must be really healthy!)
    Sometimes, walking with intention helps me as well. By “intention”, I mean being conscious of my breathing, and even feeling my feet hit the ground (especially, if there is anger or frustration, the stomping helps). I can feel the tension leave my body with each breath and step.
    Love your blog. It’s always helpful! 🙂

  • Thanks Kathryn for such good words of wisdom. It all makes perfect sense. I just wanted to add one thing that I pay closer attention to as I age and that is standing up straight and sitting with good posture. As I got older I noticed that my shoulders were drooping forward probably from sitting at a desk all day. I make a conscious effort now to stand up straight and hold my shoulders back. It feels so much better and seems to add inches to my height. Looking forward to more of your insightful contributions.

    • Thank you Janie for your time and feedback. I agree good posture is so important. My great aunt taught to
      stand up straight and support my lower back with my belly button. I’ve remember that since I was a little
      girl. Another great visual a yoga teacher gave me was to imagine a string attached to the center of my head
      and being pulled by someone in the heavens. You are so right it does feel better and makes us taller.

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