The Elephant in the Room
This Thing Called Stress
Stress has become a 4-letter word. We don’t want to talk about it, and we certainly don’t want to acknowledge it.
The World Health Organization has declared stress to be the health epidemic of the 21st century. It affects us, regardless of age. The U.S. Center for Disease Control has reported that more than half of all deaths, of those under 65, are because of causes rooted in stress.
There are many studies that confirm that, in North America, between 80 and 90% of all doctor’s visits are related to conditions brought on by stress. Those same studies show that only 3% of those appointments were made because the patient was concerned about stress. That’s a huge lack of awareness of what is really the problem. It means that about 95% of those with a stress related illness are either unaware that stress is the underlying cause of their illness, or they’re ignoring it.
It’s long past time to recognize stress for what it is.
You may know what it is like to be under a lot of stress. We were end of life caregivers for three people in our lives that we cared about deeply. First was Ed’s mom, who suffered a major stroke, then his Dad, who had dementia, then Sharon’s sister who had terminal cancer. One right after the other. We did this for eight years.
Because ‘family’ is our highest core value, we chose to support these three people. But it came at a huge cost. We knew that it would have serious consequences, not only to our own health, but also to our business.
Because it was our choice, we gathered many stress management tools to help us in our own self-care as we offered support to those we cared about. It is not an easy journey, but it was a choice that was important to us. In order to protect us, we heightened our own awareness about stress and the insidious ways it shows up in everyday life.
As we did this, we ended up with gifts we never expected. We developed a degree of flexibility in our lives that we never thought possible. That comes from being called for support with little to zero notice. Often we had to simply drop what we were doing and head out the door. When you know a person is in their last years, months or weeks of life, every single moment with them is a precious gift, even if it involves the mundane activities of personal care.
Being in the moment with each of them, brought us many moments of pure joy, gratitude, laughter and deep connection. This is the sweetness of life. It is available to you every minute of every day.
Our complex lives are continuously filled with many things that distract us from this sweetness. It’s called ‘being human’.
One of the biggest things that robs this from us is stress, and the multitude of symptoms it brings on. The symptoms of chronic stress are so insidious, that many of us don’t even know that stress is the cause. There is a huge cost to this– in every area of life.
Sound is one of the most effective tools you can use to create harmony and well-being in your life.
So let’s delve into raising your awareness and reconnecting with the sweetness.
Stress is your body’s normal response to an external stimulus that makes you feel threatened or uncomfortable. It is as normal as breathing and essential for your survival. This is your body’s natural defense mechanism and it makes no difference whether the threat is real or imagined. Because this is so important, I’m going to repeat that – it makes no difference whether the threat is real or imagined. You’ll discover more about this shortly.
Your body responds to a threat by releasing the hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and your normal level of cortisol is boosted, to put you in a state of high alert.
Your heart beats faster increasing blood pressure, your breath quickens filling your blood with more oxygen, your muscles tighten as they ready themselves for action, and your senses become sharper.
These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, reduce your reaction time, sharpen your focus, and prepare you for either fight or flight if you are in danger. These responses are great if you have a big presentation at work, have to write a test or are in a sports competition. Once the event or danger has passed, the hormone levels return to normal, and your body relaxes.
These changes are intended as a short-term boost to protect you. Your body is not designed to experience stress for an extended period of time. The consequences of extended stress are severe. Adrenaline should be gone from your system in ninety seconds; that’s the physical process.
But these hormones can also be released over and over again by our thoughts and emotions. We do it all the time. It’s called worry, or fear, or anxiety.
This is what I call ‘perceived stress.’ These filters play a huge role in perceived stress.
Your mind makes the thoughts and emotions real in a very physical way. Your mind reacts as if they are real, flooding your body with stress hormones in a futile attempt to keep you safe. In fact, it does the opposite.
Here’s how fear gets into your cells.
This is a diagram of a cell wall or membrane. The cell wall has three layers, porous layers on the inside and outside and an impermeable fatty layer in between the two porous layers.
Threaded through the wall of each cell are thousands of protein strands. On the end of each of these strands is a receptor.
In order for any substance to even get into one of your cells, it has to attach to the appropriate receptor on the protein strand (Alpha-Helix protein), or to a protein channel which then leads the material into the cell. Each protein is specific. It will only allow one or two substances to attach.
But when your system is constantly bombarded with epinephrine or cortisol, the fluid outside your cells is saturated with these hormones. When this happens, it has been found that more of the receptors can change their shape to allow more epinephrine or cortisol into the cell.
That ’s when we reach the drama queen stage. You may have had some of those Drama Queen or Drama King moments.
This is also the stage where the epinephrine boost becomes an addiction. Yes, you can become addicted to stress.
Many people depend on the energy of these stress hormones just to get through their day. Other people attract chaotic or traumatic situations into their life because they need the energy boost from the stress hormones. Much of this is unconscious. You may know someone who does this.
Know The Symptoms
To even begin to manage the symptoms of stress, you have to know what they are. Here are a few symptoms of your system being bombarded by cortisol or adrenaline. Some of these, you may be familiar with.
In the short term, stress compromises the immune system. You’re left susceptible to catching colds, or the flu. Ever notice how many people catch a cold as the stress of the holiday season comes on?
When stressed, your muscles tighten up in anticipation to fight or flight. If these muscles remain tense for extended periods of time, muscle aches result – particularly in the lower back, and shoulders. Headaches are common, as are migraines in those susceptible to them.
Stress increases the amount of glucose in the bloodstream, which helps to sharpen your mind and your senses. But if it isn’t allowed to dissipate, that “sharpened mind” turns into the ninety mile an hour mind. It’s like it’s always thinking – always working. And it won’t turn off. 44% of Americans report having trouble sleeping at night. The extra glucose in the bloodstream is also a problem for those prone to diabetes.
Stress also affects the respiratory system. You start breathing at a quicker rate and mostly from the upper part of your lungs. This can cause problems for those with asthma or respiratory disease. Stress can also cause hyperventilation or rapid breathing that can bring on a panic attach in those who are prone to this condition.
Stress increases the heart rate and raises blood pressure. When stress is prolonged or chronic, this can lead to serious heart disease.
There are also long-term consequences of prolonged stress, as chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. Below are just a few.
Stress affects your entire gastro-intestinal system. It can cause you to lose your appetite, often skipping meals. Indigestion, or nausea may occur. The body loses its ability to repair ulcers, and problems like irritable bowel syndrome appear.
Sexual problems occur as well. There is often a loss of libido, or desire, in both sexes. Women may experience an irregular menstrual cycle or it could even be shut down. And men may experience erectile dysfunction.
Recent research suggests that chronic stress can also create brain injury. Symptoms similar to concussion or post-traumatic stress syndrome appear.
Emotionally, being under stress makes you more anxious and often more negative. Left unchecked it can lead to depression and anxiety.
And of course, there is a heightened risk of heart disease and stroke. Stress has been linked in numerous studies to coronary heart disease. Research suggests that stress acts like an amplifier, multiplying the effects of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, and others.
We need to be aware that the long-term consequences of too much stress are threatening to our relationships and to our very lives.
Source of Stress:
What are the biggest stressors in our lives? A study conducted by the American Psychological Association over the past 5 years, involving the responses of over 7500 volunteers gives us some insight.
The most frequently cited source of stress was money (73% overall), work, the economy, family responsibilities and relationships (spouse, the kids, girl/boyfriend). Other top sources include health problems, job stability, housing costs, and personal safety.
Occupations with the highest rates of work-related stress are social work, teaching, and public service.
The European Union has begun to study the effects of stress related to traffic noise on people in member countries. Here are some of the things they found:
- Traffic noise is associated with between 200,000 and 250,000 cases of heart disease every year. Of those, 50,000 die. The study found that for every 10-decibel increase in noise exposure, there was a 12% increased risk of heart disease.
- 16 million people can’t sleep
- Noise is impacting the health of 125 Million people within the European Union – That’s four times the population of Canada!
So in addition to your busy day, the noise around you may be compounding your stress, making it even worse!
One of the problems with stress management these days is that many of us are already suffering physical symptoms of stress and dismiss this as ‘not important.’ Being ‘stressed out’ is almost a badge of honour in some business cultures.
How many times this week have you or a friend mentioned, “Crazy busy.”
Believe me – it is ESSENTIAL to your health and well-being to be AWARE of your own levels of stress so that you can manage them before the consequences become SEVERE.
WLet’s look at your daily life, and some common stressors.
Here are a few questions for you. Tally up any that apply to you.
Think back over the past month or so.
- Do you lie awake at night because your mind keeps racing?
- Do you often feel nervous or anxious or depressed?
- Do you feel guilty if you take time out to relax and do nothing?
- Do you get upset when caught up in traffic that’s moving too slow?
- Do you feel that problems are piling up so high that you can’t overcome them?
- Do you get impatient waiting in line-ups – do you leave if the line is too long?
- Have you found that you couldn’t cope with all the things that you had to do – that you can never get caught up??
- Do you get upset when things happen unexpectedly?
- Do you sometimes feel that things just aren’t going your way?
- Do you frequently get irritated or angry and you’re not sure why?
So, how did you do?
If you had two or less “yesses”, then your stress levels are under pretty good control. While you may have stressful moments in your life, it appears that you are handling them pretty well. You’re using some good tools already and may be interested in adding sound and music tools to keep you that way.
Three to five means that your stress levels are elevated, and there is potential to develop physical, mental, emotional, and/or spiritual effects of stress. You have likely begun to see the effects of them. Without better management of your stress, and the associated symptoms, you are putting yourself at risk.
Six to ten means your stress risk factor is HIGH. This means that you are much more likely to experience stress-related illness such as heart disease/strokes, mental health challenges (depression & anxiety), obesity, gastro-intestinal problems like irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, and more.
Now, I want to emphasize that this test is just a quick indicator. It is not a comprehensive evaluation of your stress levels, but it does look at some of the most typical symptoms of stress, and as such, if you experience more than a few of them, I urge you to get a professional health care opinion to determine your risk level.
If you want to do a more comprehensive quiz to find out more about your stress levels, please visit: soundwellness.com/survey.
We really need to be aware of the toll that chronic stress takes on our lives. Not only for ourselves, but for those who mean the most to us.
The use of Sound and Music has been scientifically validated as a methodology for supporting your health and reducing your stress. And it has been proven to complement traditional medical treatments.
However, our responses are unique to us, and as such, the information presented here is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
DO NOT discontinue any medications or treatment without the consent of your medical professional.
Download this Article