Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Can Stress Be Beneficial?

By Sara Scheller, BSN, RN, CPN, CCRN
Integrative Health Coach

Does the word “stress” alone make you feel...stressed? Do you know that not all stress is bad? What if I were to tell you that how you view stress may have a greater impact on your health than the stress alone?

Stress serves an important purpose in humans. When a person experiences a real or perceived threat, the body prepares to act. Our heart rate increases, our blood vessels constrict, our mouth may feel dry, our muscles may feel tense and our pupils dilate. This stress response called “fight or flight” happens rather quickly - we may not be aware it even occurs - and takes time for our body to return to a normal resting state. When the fight or flight switch is turned on and stays on for long periods of time, inflammation occurs, our immune system response is decreased, and we may experience digestive issues which may lead to preventable chronic diseases like heart disease and obesity. So, should we try to avoid stress all together? Not necessarily!

Research has found that how we think about stress actually matters, as Kelly McGonigal has noted in her book, The Upside of Stress (2015). In fact, one study found a 43% increased risk of dying not from stress, but the, “belief that stress is actually bad for you.” The good news is that we have a built in mechanism for stress resilience called human connection. As our body secretes cortisol, it also secretes another stress hormone called oxytocin, known as the “cuddle hormone.” Ever notice that if something gets you fired up, you start talking about it? That is because the oxytocin motivates us to seek support. This hormone naturally protects us from the harmful effects of cortisol and helps us to recover faster.

As a health coach, we work together to develop tools to improve your relationship with stress. In our sessions, we practice these to initiate a relaxation response so that you can recover from the harmful effects of stress. If we can find ways to see your stress as something that is helpful, giving you a greater sense of purpose, or setting you up with better ways to handle difficult situations, we can actually change how your body reacts to stress and improve your stress resilience. We can improve your ability to bounce back so that you can handle challenges in a new found, healthy way.

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