In these uncertain times, worry, financial difficulty and general slips of mindfulness can all increase the likelihood of injuring ourselves or negatively impact the speed of recovery from an injury or illness. This can be addressed in a positive way by understanding a bit of the science behind stress along with some practical suggestions for dealing with stress. I apologize in advance for a somewhat tedious and technical approach in describing stress in hopes of laying a foundation for the reader to arrive at a conclusion to what may be beneficial to his or her circumstance.
Definition: a STRESSOR is anything that disrupts homeostasis (balance). It can range from the physical (e.g. trauma, lack of touch, injury, surgery, poison, dehydration) to the psychological (e.g. trauma, anxiety, helplessness, feeling of loss of control). It may be acute, chronic, positive, negative, major or minor, all depending on the perception of the individual.
The HYPOTHALAMUS ( a region of the brain ) has the overall function of maintaining our homeostasis, therefore stress has a direct effect on the hypothalamus; hence our limbic system (emotional memory), nervous system and endocrine system ( a system of glands that produce secretions to help control metabolic activity). Our heartbeat, our respiration, our sleep patterns, our emotions, practically all of our vital centers are affected.
BEHAVIORAL PATTERNS are our coping mechanisms; these may include over eating, smoking, sugar consumption, abuse of alcohol and /or drugs; all which may themselves be stressors.
PHYSIOLOGICALLY the stress response is mediated by either our sympathetic nervous system (a short term 'fight or flight' mechanism) or our endocrine system (hormonal modulators with longer lasting effects). Chemicals such as adrenaline or glucocorticoids (a class of anti-inflammatory hormonal steroids) which are released in response to stress inhibit lymphocyte (immune cell) production and proliferation, diminish the function of our lymph nodes, and impede the healing process; hence putting a drain on our immune response which requires a high amount of energy. On a short term basis this is fine. However, STRESS DISORDERS will develop if the response is extreme, too long, too frequent or has unresolved emotional components. The stress response can be as damaging as the stressor. Studies have shown that stress may contribute to asthma, chronic gastritis, peptic ulcers, eczema, psoriasis, constipation, depression, migraine headaches and post traumatic stress disorder.
Therefore, STRESS REDUCING MODALITIES can improve one's health. They may include psychotherapy, relaxation and breathing techniques, meditation, biofeedback, exercise and diet. From my experience as a licensed body worker I feel that MASSAGE, ACUPUNCTURE, ORTHO-BIONOMYŽ and all other variations of bodywork are wonderful passive techniques for decreasing the effects of stress resulting in a boosted immune system.
In conclusion, how we react to stress can impact our immunity, hence help prevent injuries, increase our recovery rate from injuries and have a positive effect in general on our physical and emotional health. Listed below are several books I have found helpful in reducing stress through creative mental and physical exercises. I have also found these books educational in providing one with a variety of options to choose from in order to have more control over one's life. Please keep in mind that the books listed below are only suggested reading from my personal experience. If you go online, each author's name will bring up a variety of other valuable resources such as audio tapes, CDs, DVDs and references to other interesting books and authors.
A Gradual Awakening
Stephen B. Levine
Prefaced by RamDass
Knopf Publishing Group
Full Catastrophe Living
Prefaced by Thich Nhat Hanh
Using Your Body & Mind to Face Stress Pain & Illness
Seven Spiritual Laws of Success
Amber- Allen Publishing
A Practical Guide to the Fulfillment of Your Dreams