Personal health planning should always begin by looking at stress management. In fact, it should really be the starting point. Managing the demands on our time and energy is crucial to achieving health goals because stress can affect every aspect of our lives. Stress is what affects our ability to eat right, exercise, our moods, and our life enjoyment. Stress also plays a major role in our physical and mental health. If we haven’t harnessed the power of life management and closely identified our good and bad stress, we are more likely to experience setbacks in our pursuit of a healthy lifestyle.
We often think of stress management as simply reducing the bad stress in our lives. All stress is negative stress and we must reduce bad stress. While reducing bad stress is definitely full of positive gains in our emotional and physical health, managing negative stress is only half of the role of stress management.
There is such a thing as positive stress, and introducing this type of stress to our body is as important as reducing negative stress. Both negative and positive stress affect our bodies, but in two very different ways. How do we manage both types of stress to increase our health and wellness and reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as Alzheimer’s?
Let’s define each type of stress and look at them in greater detail.
When your life produces a situation that is out of your control, isn’t driven by our own chosen purpose or vision, and when that stress is chronic and overwhelming, that is bad stress. These situations not only impair our life functioning, decision making, and our moods, it also forces the hypothalamus, a region of the brain that controls autonomic nervous system and the secretion of hormones by the pituitary gland, into a frenzied state. This causes the brain to release adrenaline, cortisol and additional hormones that can create havoc inside our bodies. We all know what it mentally and emotionally feels like to be stressed out. Some of the physical effects include increased inflammation, impaired brain processes, and an overloaded thyroid. These responses to stress cause both short and long-term damage to our health. When we don’t decrease or eliminate stress, it can derail our health plans by causing us to make emotional decisions regarding food, exercise and other health initiatives we are pursuing.
Good stress, on the other hand, is usually within our control and are tied to things we want out of our lives. This type of stress is positive, challenges the brain and is usually tied to our life by purpose. Good stress comes when the end result is actually a positive, but there are challenges and some opposition along the way. Unlike bad stress, increasing good stress has positive effects on our brains and bodies. We want good stress because it keeps our brains engaged and interested. An example of this purpose-driven stress is a person pursuing a dream they’ve always had such as writing a book. It’s a hard and stressful process but it’s an achievement, ties in with purpose and comes with a sense of accomplishment.
The end result will open doors, but in order to arrive, you have to embark on a journey that at times is stressful – writing goals, deadlines, etc. Good stress sends your Neural Endocrine Axis on an entirely different journey. One that strengthens brain health by creating additional neuro-connections, reducing inflammation and can actually be the strongest link in the chain to protect your long-term brain health.
The journey to long-term health starts with stress. We want to decrease negative stress and increase our positive stress. This two-pronged approach is what we actually mean when we refer to stress management. When we lump all stress under one category, we miss the value added to bringing good stress into our lives. Working for something and achieving it is as critical to our health and health goals as reducing the negative stress that sends our body into a frenzy and hurts our decision making.
So how do we effectively manage our stress for the best possible long-term health and to preserve and protect our brains? Here are five steps to a total stress management makeover:
Identify. Write down all the areas in your life where you are experiencing stress.
Classify. Categorize the stresses you’ve identified as good or bad stress. Remember that bad stress is often those predicaments that happen to us or don’t add to the bottom line value of your life (blown tire on a new car), while good stressors are often introduced by us to improve some area of life (training for a marathon).
Prioritize. It is important to prioritize your stress to see what bad stress can go, what has to stay and where we can stand to add more positive stress to our lives.
Decrease. We should explore each and every negative stressor in our lives and decide if there is anything we can do to decrease it’s destruction or eradicate it altogether.
Increase. Where negative stress can compromise our health, positive stress is vital for us to prosper. Where can we add positive stress to our lives?
Nothing is more protective to the brain than positive stress, and nothing is more damaging to our lives than negative stress. Every health plan needs to start with a hard look at all the stress in your life. Priority one is dealing with negative stress. Not only is it affecting your body in ways you can’t see, it is a barrier to pursuing a healthy lifestyle when we are forced to use old habits to cope with overwhelming amounts of negative stress. The second tier is to increase the positive stress in your life. Add a pursuit or goal that will get you excited and push you a little further each day. Your energy and outlook should take a turn for the positive and the brain will actually strengthen as you pursue your goals.
To learn more about stress and brain health, visit teamsherzai.com.