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Be a Healthcare Rebel - January 2013

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2013: The Year You Decided To Be Less Stressed - Month 1

stressWhen you think about it, we are pre-wired for stress.  During the hunter phase of the evolutionary process, humans not infrequently found themselves in “run, kill, or be killed” scenarios, and life was a daily challenge of simply surviving.  As a result, it now seems what’s left behind is a “default mode” which has a tendency to take us to the land of stress, fear (often the root of our stress), and less optimism than we might inherently possess.

Take one minute to answer this simple question:

stress-1

 

Do you sometimes feel like this? 

stress-2For me, the first time stress came to my consciousness as a concept occurred when I was in high school traveling in Scandinavia with my family.  We happened to visit the museum in Oslo, Norway which houses Edvard Munch’s masterpiece – The Scream.

Though I was not really stressed at the age of 15, this iconic painting, which sold for $120 million in 2012, still somehow had a visceral impact on me.  As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and his work seems to have universal resonance.

So, what is stress exactly?  According to Merriam-Webster, it is “a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or emotional tension….which may be a factor in disease causation…..and which may result from factors that tend to alter an existing equilibrium.”  Besides not feeling good, here’s some of what we know:

 

stress-3

Did you happen to notice the part where it says stress changes the size of our brains?!!!

It decreases the size of our hippocampus, an area of the brain which impacts short and long term memory as well as spatial navigation, and increases the size of the amygdala, an area of the brain which plays a role in the type and intensity of our emotional reactions. 

I don’t know about you, but these stress-induced changes do not seem like ones that are going to end well.  Hopefully, that reality will hit home and further inspire you to keep moving to take action.   Why ? Because we are learning the brain has something called “neuroplasticity,” which means we actually have the potential to rewire pathways which do not serve us well.  More about that later in the year. 

stress-4

So when you don’t feel well when you’re stressed, there are many potential reasons why that is the case. Both your body and emotions are responding. Behavior which does not serve you well (and even create more stress in the long run) may follow.

Now that you know, what are going to do about it?

Action Steps for Month 1:

  • Guess what? By simply acknowledging you are stressed and reading this blog to learn more about stress, you have already completed one action step!
  • Studies indicate some people are more successful in reaching a goal if they share their plan with others. So consider asking a friend to either take the journey with you or to be someone who will help you stay on track.
  • Exercise #1: Do NOT become stressed about being stressed.  Simply observe and do not judge.  Adding an extra layer of energy and emotion on your “stress cake” is only going to make it topple over from the weight of all that “stress icing.”
  • Exercise #2: Over the next month, begin to take notice of how often your stress level hits 5 or higher. The simply keep a tally so you can make an honest self-assessment at the end of 30 days of the percentage of the time you fall in an “I Need Help !” (INHI) status, i.e., a consistently high level of stress or a level which raises a major concern for you.  The INHI = the number of days at a stress level of 5 or higher divided by the number of days in the month multiplied by 100%.  
  • If you know you are already regularly sitting at 5 or higher most of the time, or are overwhelmed by stress, please seek care from a healthcare/mental health professional who can evaluate your situation and rule out any medical or other conditions which may be causing or contributing to your symptoms.
    If you are in crisis, an additional resource may be the toll-free, 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
  • Do not expect perfection.  If you forget or miss a few days, simply pick up where you left off.  Change is often about taking baby steps and anticipating periodic slippage.  It is not an all-or-none phenomenon.  Some action over time is going to get you there sooner than writing things off because you did not follow the process exactly 100% of the time.

The tempo of the series has been designed for group movement, steady progress, and with the intent for it to be manageable for most people.  It is slower than would be typical for individuals in a one-on-one coaching setting with customized support. 

So back in January we began to explore the impact of stress on the body and brain. Let’s resume with a few facts about the brain itself:

  • ŸThe brain weighs approximately 3 pounds and contains about 1.1 trillion cells.
  • ŸIt represents 2% of the body’s weight but uses 5% of the oxygen.
  • The average brain cell (neuron) has 1000 connections (synapses) which create a highly interconnected network.
  • The brain and the mind influence each other.

And remember how we are now learning the brain can rewire itself?

The foregoing information, resources, links and/or references (collectively, the “Materials”) are provided solely for informational purposes and are not intended as medical or other professional advice. No representation or warranty of any kind is made in connection with the content of the Materials. The Materials may not be current and no one should take any action based on the Materials without first consulting their health care professional.

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