In a survey of 30,000 people in 30 countries, it was reported that women who work full-time and have children have the greatest level of stress. Half of the population reports that their stress level has gone up in the last year. Eighty-one percent of Americans report that money is their number one source of stress. As I’ve reported in the past, this chronic stress takes a toll. The six leading causes of death have been linked to stress including cancer, heart disease, lung disease, suicide, accidents and cirrhosis of the liver. Add to this the other diseases related to stress (diabetes, stroke, digestive disorders, depression/anxiety, hormone and reproductive problems and immune disorders) and stress is the greatest cause of death and disease we are facing. Medical researchers estimate that stress is the underlying cause of 80% of all illness. But I somehow doubt this comes as much of a shock to most people.
So what do we do about stress? The first thing is to realize that stress is a perception that occurs in the brain. I’ve heard it said, “It’s not the stress, it’s how we respond or react to the stress.” We need to realize that the stress response is a programmed reaction that starts in the brain and is carried through different hormones and chemicals to change our physiology so that we can better respond to a threat. This cascade of chemical reactions is measurable, reproducible, and predictable – it happens to some degree every time we perceive stress. You also need to realize that the stress response is a perfect reaction! The response is programmed in all of us in order to increase our chances of survival. The problem is that when stress is perceived the process starts and the brain does not know or care whether we are threatened by money and taxes or confronted by a tiger – the reaction is the same. The response that would be of benefit if we were running from a tiger is devastating over time with daily stresses of modern life. The other problem is that our brain and nervous system is always learning and adapting. In the same way that practicing the piano will make us a better player, practicing the perception of stress will send us more easily into the stress response. Realize that stress is a habit that must be interrupted and then retrained and this takes practice. Please check in next week and I will share several strategies on how to start this process that can make the biggest difference between health and disease.