Stress left unchecked can haunt you

For three generations now, beginning with baby boomers, psychologists tell us that the current generation of children has more stress than their predecessors. Doctors keep warning us of the health and psychological hazards of living high-stress lives, yet stress levels keep rising. There are some things to do to help yourself deal with stress, but let’s first define it. Our working definition of stress will be: a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances, which usually affects the body and mind after prolonged periods.

Different people experience different things as stressful. Parents might think that it must be great fun for their children to be playing sports with their teams, while their children are stressed that they won’t be good enough, and that they’ll feel shame if they don’t play well. Some kids are even bullied.

Some people can handle constructive criticism and can grow from it, while others shut down inside or lash out to defend themselves.

Some people would melt into the floor if asked to speak publicly, while others are always looking for an audience.

Another definition I found on a thorough website about stress from the United Kingdom is “feeling out of control.” Here’s an example. As a student I feel I must get great grades, which takes time. I want to wear nice clothes, and have a car, but don’t want to be a burden on my family, so I get a job. I want to be popular with school peers, and everyone knows the athletes or cheerleaders, so I go out for sports, I really love creating graphics, so I want to join the graphics club at school. OMG! Teens ideally need nine hours of sleep a night. How can they get it? Most people sleep less.

So the body that you are demanding to do all these things then becomes exhausted and stressed. When stressed, the body produces cortisol, the steroid hormone produced by the adrenal cortex. ‘Its job is to increase blood sugar, suppress the immune system, and aid the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrate. It also decreases bone formation.”

Knowledge is power. If you think you might be feeling stressed, check out the following symptoms. The Mayo Clinic website lists the common effects of stress on our:

w Body: headache, muscle tension or pain, chest pain, fatigue, change in sex drive, stomach upset, sleep problems (the UK site adds hair loss).

wMood: anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation or focus, irritability or anger, sadness or depression.

wBehavior: overeating or undereating, angry outburst, drug or alcohol abuse, tobacco use, social withdrawal

It states that “Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.”

Now the body is resilient, and can take a lot of stress, but it must have time to recover. Healthy food, sleep, doing what we love, and being with people we love all help us recover faster. If we are spiritual, then we can pray to our Creator for healing, and a way to decrease the stress in our lives.

The Mayo Clinic specifically adds, “Explore stress management strategies, such as physical activity, relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga, Tai chi. And avoid tobacco use and excess caffeine and alcohol intake.” 

Many people believe they have to keep pushing. They may take energy drinks, which keep the cortisol level up. Did you catch the part about how cortisol suppresses the immune system? That’s our body’s army that fights off all illnesses, including cancer. Then we get sick, and more stressed, because we are behind.

It’s OK to ask for help. Prolonged stress can ruin relationships with loved ones. Sadly, we may be working so hard to support our loved ones, or to make them proud of us, but then we never have time to really be with them, and they feel neglected! You matter! You deserve to feel good. What is overwhelming to you is something that a counselor sees frequently. They know how to ask questions to help you prioritize and value your life. If one counselor doesn’t feel right, try another counselor. Four times in my life I’ve gotten second opinions from doctors, and have been helped immeasurably.

Too much stress can also cause heart attacks and ulcers, as well as terrible headaches and weight gain. Don’t wait too long. The good news is that you can probably bounce back from a stressful time, IF you make the changes needed to get your life back in balance.

Do take some time now to find out what really relaxes you, and helps you sleep. Don’t self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, but people have been drinking Chamomile tea for years to help them relax. And millions of people come to Hawaii every year to relax on the beach. Getting a massage is another great way to relax, but costs a lot. However, when I Googled “How to give a massage.” Thirty-five million hits came up! Many were videos on back, neck/shoulder, hand, foot, and much more. Watch with a friend and take turns. Giving each other a massage. If you each have the intention to bring peace and balance to the body you are working on, the receiver will be affected.

Peace be with you!

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Annaleah Atkinson is with Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i, a support group for teens and their families. Email your questions or concerns to aatkinson@haleopio.org.

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