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KEY POINTS:

1. When you're stressed, adrenaline and cortisol increase the activity of various organs like your heart, lungs, and muscles. This increases your capacity to function at a high level, both mentally and physically.

2. However, chronic stress damages your body, threatens your mental health, puts strain on relationships, and takes the joy out of life. Not to mention it contributes to high blood pressure, increases your risk of having a heart attack, can lead to weight gain/obesity, and causes brain changes that contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction.

3. The good news is you can learn to deal with chronic stress by moving your body, getting into nature, practicing yoga/meditation/tai chi, having perspective, and changing the nature of your response.

You know what acute stress feels like: you hit a patch of ice, your car starts sliding off the road, and then you recover control just before you hit the ditch. Within seconds, your heart feels like it’s going to pound out of your chest. Your adrenal glands have just dumped hormones like epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and cortisol into your blood. Adrenaline and cortisol increase the activity of various organs like the heart, the lungs and your muscles. You feel like you’re buzzing.

The benefit of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol is that they increase our capacity to function at a high level, both mentally and physically. This is a good thing in short bursts. But it’s a bad thing to be flooded with those hormones for long periods. If they remain in our systems over time, or are dumped into our bloodstream day after day, they can cause problems. That’s what chronic stress is – not just a short burst but a prolonged period.

Short bursts of stress (called acute) are essential for helping us to perform at a higher level. But elevated stress over long periods of time (called chronic) can make us sick. 

So, acute stress can improve your performance during short periods. It’s not something to worry about when sporadic and it’s fairly easy to recover from: close your eyes, empty your mind, relax your body, and take some deep breaths. No harm done to your health, and a good boost to your performance while you were riding the wave.

Chronic stress is a different story. It’s really hard to live a high-performance life when stress is a daily reality. Chronic stress damages your body, threatens your mental health, puts strain on relationships and takes the joy out of life.

According to research conducted at the Harvard Medical School, it contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that contribute to anxiety, depression and addiction. When epinephrine (adrenaline) damages your blood vessels, making them stiff, that elevated blood pressure increases your risk for heart attacks and strokes. And constant increased cortisol levels result in depleted energy and an increase your appetite, which can lead to weight gain and obesity.

Why is chronic stress so bad? Because you have no time to recover. So it runs you down and makes you sick.

You may be interested in some of the top ten life stressors according to The American Institute of Stress:

·      Death of spouse or family member

·      Divorce

·      Major personal injury or illness

·      Marriage

·      Being fired at work

·      Retirement from work

Many of us will experience one or more of these life events. So how can we reduce the ongoing flow of damaging stress hormones – and even find peace? Here are some proven techniques:

Today's POWER-UP: Rest, Recover and Regenerate

Move your body: rhythmic, repeated motion is particularly soothing to our minds and bodies, such as a long walk, cycling, swimming or running. But any kind of movement will relieve tension, improve circulation and clear your mind. I call this muscular meditation.

Get into nature: head outside to the park, the woods or the garden to lower blood pressure, strengthen your immune system, reduce tension and depression, and boost your mood. It’s stunning how good it is for your health to be in nature. Leave the cell phone and ear buds at home.

Practice yoga, mediation or Tai Chi: like nature therapy, yoga and Tai Chi decrease stress and anxiety, increase energy, and boost your immune system. They also give you more stamina – needed in stressful times – and improve the quality of your sleep.

Have perspective: don’t be so quick to conclude that you “can’t handle” a stressful situation. This is truly a mind over matter opportunity. Believing that you are strong and resourceful actually makes you stronger and more resourceful. Don’t give into negative self-talk about not having what it takes to manage life. 

Change the nature of your response: research indicates that taking an active, problem-solving approach to life’s challenges relieves stress and can also transform it into something positive. If you withdraw, deny the problem or spend all your time venting, you’ll feel helpless. Instead, be determined to make a change, put effort into it, and plan for better results. Pivot from threat to challenge.