Less Stress, More Rest

by Susan Schachter May 02, 2019 3 min read

Less Stress, More Rest

Everyone hates stress. Even hearing the word can make us nervous. But it’s important to know how stress works, because it can have a huge impact on our blood pressure.

When talking about stress, the medical community will sometimes speak of something called GAS, or General Adaptation Syndrome.GAS is the process the body goes through when it is exposed to stress. It includes 3 stages:

  • The first is the alarm stage. The body detects distress, and in response it releases stress hormones into the system. These hormones increase our heart rate and blood sugar levels and narrow our blood vessels, thereby increasing our blood pressure. It’s the body trying to take care of us via the fight-or-flight response.
  • The second is the resistance stage, which occurs if the stress is no longer present. In this stage, the body tries to bring things back to how they were before by reducing stress hormones and bringing the heart rate and blood pressure down to normal levels.
  • The third is the exhaustion stage. In this stage, which comes after a prolonged period of experiencing stress, the body feels depleted because of its repeated attempts to recover from the first stage (alarm stage).

Aside from fatigue, anxiety, mental fog, and depression, if we don’t find a way to keep our bodies from entering that third stage, then we are at risk of developing decreased immune function, stomach ulcers, type-2 diabetes and cardiac disease (including high blood pressure).

But that doesn’t mean that avoiding stress entirely is the best option, either: there’s “good” stress and “not good” stress. “Good” stress is part of being alive. We’re nervous about a presentation, a promotion, a pregnancy, etc. It keeps us motivated, keeps our body working, and helps us stay alert and focused. This type of stress would take us through stages one and two of GAS.

Then there’s the “not good” stress, which comes about when you hear or see something that makes you feel a lack of control. That’s when your blood pressure medication has been recalled, your significant other is mad at you, the economy isn’t doing well, your favorite news channel keeps yelling about politics, you’re afraid of something, or you keep comparing your life to what you see on social media. That can take us into the third stage of GAS, and bring with it all the physical ailments I mentioned earlier.

Obviously, we can’t always avoid “not good” stress, and so we need to find ways to manage it. That way, we can reassert control of our own body and keep stress from causing physical problems.

Some suggestions for managing stress:

  • Physical Activity. Particularly something you enjoy. You can, walk, hike, play tennis, pickleball, go to the gym, jump on a trampoline, or dance in your room! Just move your body!
  • Meditation. If you don’t have any experience with meditating, there are many apps available to help you. I personally recommend Headspace, but if you find something else that works well for you, use that.
  • Talk therapy. That works whether or not you’re seeing a professional or getting together with a friend to talk.
  • Taking action to change things that can be changed. Speaking with appropriate parties at work or home. Changing jobs. Asking for help. Speaking with your MD about medication recalls. Getting involved in a cause that empowers you.
  • Scheduling and doing things that you can look forward to. When done regularly, even something small can make a difference. Art classes, voice lessons, instrument lessons, language lessons.

Anything that makes you feel more in control and/or brings you bliss is encouraged! Your heart will thank you later!

Here’s to your health!

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