How to Deal With Physiologic Stress
Physiologic stress occurs when our body experiences a negative change due to stress. Depending on how we react to or view the stressor, we may experience long or short-term effects due to the reaction of our nervous, endocrine, and/or immune system. See: How Stress Affects the Immune System.
By adulthood, we usually have built up a tool-set of coping techniques we access to achieve stress management. Sometimes, however, the stressors may exceed the effectiveness of our current set of coping skills. In these cases, it is useful to consider the following stress-reducing methods:
- Cognitive Therapy
- The Physiological Effects of Exercise include, at minimum, the following: (1) enhanced blood flow to the brain; (2) stimulated autonomic nervous system; and (3) triggered release of a variety of hormones, resulting in a neurophysiological 'high' that serves as an anti-depressant in some and anti-anxiety in others. At minimum, it results in an enhanced sense of well-being.
- The Psychological Effects of Exercise are commonly seen as similar to activities that offer a change of pace, like reading a book or going to a movie. In addition, however, the increase in perceived level of appearance is shown to reduce stressful anxiety. But, most importantly, as stress can lead to depression (lower levels of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin), exercise produces effects similar to that of Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, and other antidepressants.
According to studies, the key factors seem to include exerting yourself, wanting to exercise, and starting slowly, gradually increasing exercise intensity.
Used for thousands of years, relaxation techniques have been found to be effective treatments for stress. Edward Jacobson documented the progressive muscle relaxation technique, with which many of us are familiar today. The technique includes tensing a certain muscle, holding the tension for 10 seconds, and slowly releasing the tension, paying attention to the tension that fades away.
After several weeks of practice, many people can quickly identify a part of the body that is tensing due to stress, and relaxe that body part on the spot.
Researchers (such as Herbert Benson) found that such relaxation techniques result in a lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, and lower oxygen consumption.
Deep Breathing and Visualization
Usually, when we're stressed, our breathing is shallow and fast. Interestingly, controlling our physiological response to stress can relieve the stress itself. The basics of this method include the following:
- Slow your breathing by taking long, slow breaths from your diaphragm or abdomen, not your chest.
- Visualize relaxation entering your body as you inhale and tension leaving your body as you exhale.
- Think self-affirming thoughts: "I am safe." "I can handle anything." "I am strong and healthy."
Cognitive therapy involves examination of how we think about or perceive our stressor and the resultant stress level.
Cognitive therapists have found that with strategies including distraction, calming self-statements, and cognitive restructuring (replacing maladaptive, self-defeating thoughts with healthier adaptive thinking), a sense of personal control and lower stress can be attained.
For example, you may have noticed that if you focus on a negative experience at work, your mood is affected and you may develop a tension headache. The headache further reduces your mood, which makes your thoughts even more pessimistic. This is an example of Cognitive Behavior Stress Management (CBSM) in reverse. With practice, you can identify a stressful event early on and confront it with an effective coping strategy before it becomes overwhelming and induces a negative physiological response.