Some Words About Stress

workplace stressOne of the most insidious factors that afflicts people is stress. Everyone who works, has children, commutes and basically lives in western industrialized societies is subject to it. Stress even controls a large part of our economy as evidenced by the endless ads for headache relief, antacids, laxatives, diarrhea aids, tranquilizers, stimulants and so on. Stress has also been linked to more serious conditions, such as chemical dependency, heart disease and even cancer.

There are many different types of stress. There is structural stress, such as wearing bad shoes, having a spinal problem or poor posture. We also can have chemical stress. This can include dietary deficiency or excess. Then there are mental stresses, such as emotional stress originating from any situation which creates fear and anxiety. Many times one stress triggers another. For example, a self-inflicted stress, such as setting unrealistic goals or external pressures from work or family, can shut down our digestive system. This may then cause intestinal stress with associated back pain. If we don’t relieve the aggravating situation that caused all this, we set up a vicious cycle of unrelenting stress.

There are also external stresses, like physical and environmental. Physical stress can be caused by the inactivity of our sedentary lifestyle or by repetitive activity, similar to that of a factory worker or assembly line worker. It can even be caused by too much activity, such as over-exercise.

Environmental stress includes noise, excessive heat and cold. It can also Include more complex stressors like chemical pollution, radioactive pollution, and smog.

Stress is very hard to treat because everyone encounters it daily. A person can’t take anti-stress tablets and eliminate their stress (although some people try to with indulgences in smoking alcohol and drugs). Stress affects everyone differently. No two people react to stress the same way. And the end result symptoms vary: one person may develop headaches, while another high blood pressure or ulcers.

So, what do we do? Stop working, procreating, commuting, breathing? It is possible to lead a healthy balanced life while withstanding Shakespeare’s “Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” by employing stress management.

This should not be just a course in relaxation, but training for an extremely challenging event, life. Just as a boxer trains for a fight by doing road work for endurance, weight training for strength, light bag work for timing and reflexes, so too must we train ourselves to deal with stress. We must employ proper exercise and well balanced eating habits, proper goal setting and relaxation. This way we can control our stress rather than letting stress control our lives.

Breathing and Stress

Frequently it’s found that people under stress don’t breath properly. Actually, they often breath just opposite that of normal.

Below is a step by step guide to an activity that many people have learned wrong! Are you breathing right?

The normal pattern of breathing is as follows:

1. Upon inhalation, relax and gently push out the abdominal muscles (the lower belly) with a simultaneous slight extension (leaning back) of the spine.

2. Exhalation involves the contracting, or “pulling in” of the abdominal muscles, with slight flexion of the spine.

3. The chest should move very little during normal breathing, and should expand only during more forced inhalation but only after the abdominal muscles have relaxed (i.e., are pushed out).

This sounds easy enough, but most people perform this just the opposite way—they pull their abdomen in when breathing in, and raise their chest. As a result, a smaller amount of air is taken into the lungs. This can be a cumulative stress on the entire system over time, especially during exercise.

If you have trouble breathing right, perform this routine:

Stand with one hand on the lower abdomen and one hand on the lower spine, and slowly practice breathing in and out. Think of the area of where your hands are as a vessel, which you are attempting to fill with air.

Another exercise which will help the diaphragm muscle is the “straw exercise.” This is more for improving the power of the muscle, and involves breathing deeply, and slowly, in and out through a straw for a few seconds to a minute. Work up to several sets of about one minute each three times a week for eight to 10 weeks. This may be very difficult if you haven’t breathed properly for some time, but it will soon be easier.

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