By Mark Underwood
When the news reports an unexpected storm headed your way, how do you react? When you go to the dentist and learn you’ll need a series of dental treatments that will be interrupt your work schedule and have a high price tag, how much do you fret over it? And when your adult daughter, who is going through difficult times, wants to move back home for a while, does it keep you from sleeping soundly?
These types of circumstances can happen in a person’s life at any time. But have you ever noticed how some people take the news of the unexpected with graciousness and ease while others panic and try to solve problems that they can’t fully control?
Let’s face it. You can’t control the weather, turn back the clock or make your children’s problems go away. But you can react to life’s hits and misses in a healthy way. Everyone has stressful events in their lives. Sometimes they occur in clusters and it seems like there’s never going to be a sunny, ‘ordinary’ day ahead. Then other times a big piece of bad news comes along and you can’t sleep or get it off your mind.
When you feel like you’ll never get all the things done in a day that you should, or you can’t balance your checkbook because you forgot to enter a couple of checks or you’re running late to an important meeting, you will likely feel excessive stress from your internal alarm system.
Think of your alarm system this way: your hypothalamus, a tiny area at the base of the brain, starts the alarm process through nerve and hormonal signals that prompt a surge of hormones to be released. These hormones include adrenaline and cortisol, the main stress hormone.
Cortisol is a complex natural alarm system that ‘talks to’ the brain and controls mood, motivation and fear. When your stress alarm system is activated long-term – and you haven’t found long lasting ways to relax and enjoy peace of mind, you are at risk. Did you know that an inordinate amount of stress can disrupt all of your body’s processes? Long-term activation of the stress-response system and overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can put you at increased risk for numerous health problems.
Admittedly, some people cope with life’s stressful situations better than others. But you can learn healthy ways to cope with what life throws your way.
If you think too much stress is just about feeling agitated, think again. The typical demands of day-to-day living can be stressful for anyone. The driver in front of you weaves from lane to lane, the check-out lines at the grocery store are long, but how you react to these challenges can make a difference in your health.
Make a commitment today to find new health strategies to use when life is difficult. If you don’t, you’re at risk for health problems like these:
• Heart disease
• Memory problems
• Sleep problems
• Digestive problems
• Skin conditions like eczema
So what can you do to improve your ability to deal with stress? Start by identifying what stresses you out the most. Is it the unexpected or changes in your schedule that will mean you have to learn new skills or lose time doing things you like to do?
Here are some ways you can put yourself in the driver’s seat and take better care of yourself physically and emotionally in the face of stressful situations:
• Eat a healthy diet
• Get regular exercise
• Get plenty of sleep
• Make sure you have healthy feel-good friendships
• Keep your sense of humor even during trying times
• Practice relaxation techniques
If you can learn to manage stress, you’ll enjoy peace of mind and possibly a longer, healthier life.
Mark Underwood is a neuroscience researcher, president, and co-founder of Quincy Bioscience, a biotech company located in Madison, Wisconsin focused on the discovery and development of medicines to treat age related memory loss and the diseases of aging. Mark has been taped as an expert in the field of neuroscience for The Wall Street Journal Morning Radio, CBS, and CNN Radio among others. Underwood is also a contributor to the “Brain Health Guide” which highlights the research at Quincy Bioscience and offers practical tips to help keep health brain function in aging. Visit www.TheGoodNewsAboutAging.com or more articles and tips for healthy aging.