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How to Win the Game Against STRESS!

By Ben Smith, Lead Health Coach at Fitness Interactive Experience

We often think of stress as this nebulous phenomenon that comes in and out of our lives at various times, which we have very little control over. The truth is there are varying types of stress and you can learn how to manage them so that they have minimal impact on your life and daily routine. But before we can manage it, we need to clearly understand what IT is!

Understanding Stress

Physiological or biological stress is an organism’s response to an environmental condition or stimulus. One of the celebrated pioneers of stress research, Hans Selye, divided stress into positive and negative classifications. Positive stress was known as eustress and negative stress was known as distress.

One of the best ways to cope with, or manage, stress is to demonstrate healthy behaviors in the cornerstones of good health: Daily Activity, Exercise, as well as Healthy Diet and Lifestyle choices.
An example of eustress would be receiving a promotion, getting married or becoming an Olympic Champion! It’s a largely positive response to events that give you feelings of life satisfaction and overall well-being. On the other hand, an example of distress would be getting fired, going to prison, or the loss of a loved one. It’s an overwhelmingly negative response to events that give you feelings of anxiety, anger or loss of control. It’s too much for your system to take, physically or mentally.

How the Body Copes With Stress

The human body strives to maintain equilibrium, or in biological terms, homeostasis. If a psychological or physical stressor disrupts your internal equilibrium, your body will utilize whatever means necessary, via your nervous, endocrine and immune systems, to get everything back under control.

One way to do this is with the help of the autonomic nervous system. Your autonomic nervous system controls the stuff that your body does automatically that you don’t have to think about, like breathing, digestion and thermoregulation. The autonomic nervous system has two levers: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.

If you aren’t eating right and sleeping right, your tank gets smaller and smaller, and eventually the question of “For here or to go?” may cause an existential crisis.
The sympathetic nervous system (i.e. “Stab stab stab!”) initiates the “fight or flight” response; think of it as the gas pedal. It’s the one that kicks in when you need some extra Oomph!

The parasympathetic nervous system (i.e. “Poop!”) initiates the “rest and digest” or “feed and breed” response; think of it as the brakes. It’s the one that kicks in when your body is at rest.

If the body experiences an overwhelming dominance of either one of these systems, then homeostasis gets thrown out of whack. Ideally, they’re working with each other rather than against each other.

How to Use This Knowledge to Manage Stress

The key to managing stress is to know what to do when one of these systems is starting to dominate.

One of the best ways to cope with, or manage, stress is to demonstrate healthy behaviors in the cornerstones of good health: Daily Activity, Exercise, as well as Healthy Diet and Lifestyle choices.

Daily Activity and Exercise can serve as balance to an overly dominant parasympathetic (Poop!) state. They can also give you an opportunity to contemplate your key stressors and time to come to a viable solution.

Healthy Diet and Lifestyle choices help refuel your tank and can balance an overly dominant sympathetic (Stab stab stab!) state. You only have a finite amount of Adaptation Reserve available; think of that as your gas tank. If you aren’t eating right and sleeping right, your tank gets smaller and smaller, and eventually the question of “For here or to go?” may cause an existential crisis.

Don’t let that happen to YOU.

Prioritize your health and you’ll find that you’re in a much better position to win the game against STRESS!