Stress Friend or Foe?

Stress is unavoidable. No one can live a stress-free life. Nor would that be desirable. ‘Good’ stress or more to the point, ‘optimum’ stress, is necessary for healthy growth and development. It is the ongoing, relentless, frustrating, unresolved events and, even more importantly, your responses, that wreak havoc on your physical and emotional well-being. For many people this takes the form of chronic headaches. Since you do not have absolute control over your universe, the only thing you can truly master is how you respond to it.

On a physical level, your reaction to negative stressful events as well as positive stressful events is basically the same, but negative events often last longer than positive events. This is an aspect of the famous Fight or Flight response–your body preparing you for action. Your body gears up to be able to do what is required to insure your survival. This ‘gearing up’ is not a cause for alarm if it occurs on a temporary and infrequent basis. But, if your response keeps you in a hyper-aroused state for very long, body systems can break down resulting in not only headaches, but anxiety, insomnia, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, Raynaud’s Syndrome, hypertension and other chronic, difficult to diagnose ailments.

Then of course, the psychological factors related to stress can take a toll on your emotional health as well. Take for instance the stress of getting fired from your job. Certainly, there is the physiological response but then you take the incident and invalidate yourself with negative self-talk like ‘I am worthless’, ‘I can’t do anything right’ or ‘What will my friends think?’. The bad news is what you tell yourself about the event. The good news is you can learn ways to manage that response to minimize its negative impact.

One…learn how to recognize your body’s stress response and learn how to relax. Two…take stock of changes you can make in your environment and your lifestyle to counteract the affects of ongoing stress. Which do you think is the hardest to do?

In our counseling practice we used biofeedback to train people to change faulty behaviors caused by their stress related disorders. Being able to take the body to a state of relaxation is key, and done consistently the body will recuperate from incidents of stress without doing major damage. Since you are in control of your behavior, this is usually the easiest place to start. The problem with relaxation is that most people think they already know what it is. Unfortunately, stressed individuals particularly those with chronic severe headaches have lost the ability to relate to a what a really relaxed state feels like. What they perceive as relaxed just isn’t.

You have to pay attention to the signals your body is giving you that tell you what state your body is in. Sound easy? Well, if you are like many people, those signals have been ignored for so long you:
a) Don’t know what to look for and…
b) You wouldn’t recognized them if you did

Paying attention to your body signals is a major step in reducing stress. In our fast-paced society we often override the symptoms of stress in order to be productive. This ongoing discounting of warning flags can eventually result in conditions that can no longer be ignored. A simple example… if you feel threatened in some way, your heart rate increases, the palms of your hands sweat, your muscles get tense, your digestion slows down–all to get you ready for action (Fight or Flight Response). To inoculate yourself to the effects of ongoing stressors, it is necessary to lower this level of sympathetic nervous system activity into a normal range. Even though there are ups and downs, the nervous system needs to return to a level of relative relaxation after each ‘up’ cycle. The body requires ample opportunity to relax and ‘rejuvenate’ after getting geared up for a challenge.

To learn more about how stress is implicated in chronic headaches download the free guide, Beyond Relief…Prevention. Questions and comments welcome here! 

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