We’ve all been low. Most of us are no stranger to those times when we simply don’t know how to go on. Exhausted, we ask, how can we even begin to contend with this problem—there doesn’t seem to be a way out? The notion of simply putting one foot in front of the other and moving on seems impossible. These are the unforgiving moments in our lives when our spirits have been brought down, an unbearable pressure laid on us. Is there any relief?
A Stressed Life
It’s all about stress. None of us are surprised when we learn that stress is one of the top reasons why we find ourselves lost and hopeless. We are confronted in every quarter of our lives with pressures that will lead unerringly to it. For some of us, we are experiencing financial difficulties. Life is grave, for only after some painful contortions of our bank accounts are we able to cobble together next month’s rent or mortgage payment. But what about the one after that? In two Canadian studies, 48% said they’ve lost sleep over financial worries. And 44% say it would be difficult to meet their financial obligations if their pay was late. Such problems exert tremendous amounts of stress on us and we are often left feeling defeated.
Otherwise, we encounter difficulties in our workplaces. Sometimes it can be the fear of potentially losing our jobs. As far as we’re concerned, it’s our very lives that seem to be at stake. Some experience the tensions brought on by conflicts or disagreements with colleagues. In other respects, especially in the various health professions, people are overworked and struggling to make time for the other elements of their lives—families, friends or simple recreation. All of these challenges bring with them a great degree of stress.
Taking care of a loved one experiencing medical challenges is always a very difficult and sometimes a traumatic task. Those who accept these burdens are willing to care for their loved one, something that varies in its degree. It could mean simply providing support and ‘being there’ to actually conducting medical procedures. But it takes its toll, the worry and the personal sacrifices that have to be selflessly made. These few examples I’ve offered only touch on a fraction of life situations that carry with them a sometimes crushing amount of stress.
And under stress, people’s overall health is affected. We must bear in mind that stress isn’t automatically detrimental. It can be either good or bad—it depends. One thing we know for certain is that our brain and immune systems are in constant contact. During short-term stress, our immune system is activated, thus enhancing our immunoprotective responses including wound healing, vaccination, as well as providing an anti-infectious agent and anti-tumour functions. Hormones also work to produce symptoms known more customarily as a ‘fight or flight’ response. That’s good.
Although, the story’s different if it’s more chronic stress. With long-term or chronic stress, our immune system responses are suppressed. In so doing, they induce low-grade chronic inflammation, in addition to suppressing the number, trafficking and function of immunoprotective cells. It also dampens less immediate bodily functions. In contrast to shorter term stress, chronic stress does the opposite by reducing immune responses to infection, limiting wound recovery and impeding immunity provided by vaccinations. Chronic inflammation is particularly negative as, if it is persistent, it can lead to chronic diseases affecting central organs in our bodies like our heart.
Dealing With Stress
Any one of us who have ever been confronted by these trying conditions can readily identify how harmful and destabilising they are to our mental and physical well-being. But there are ways we can potentially dial down our stress. One of the first things to do is just move. Go for a walk, bike ride, or anything that will get your heart pumping a little. If we are near the seaside or in some natural setting, all the better. But even if we’re surrounded on all sides by glass and steel, in the end it doesn’t matter. Just go. And when we do so, our bodies naturally release a few hormones that can make our path a little more smooth.
Endorphins are released when we are vigorously exercising, but even for less intense exercise, it will do so. They’re our natural pain relief and they also promote feelings of pleasure. They’re released simply because our bodies aren’t sure of the nature of our exertion. Is this life or death? It can’t know and so, we receive a dose of endorphins just in case. To top it off, we may also get a portion of other more happy-day hormones such as dopemine. We are left feeling eager to meet goals, desires and needs and it also enhances our pleasure in achieving them. Serotonin is another that accompanies feelings of significance or importance.
Other actions we can take to combat stress include ensuring our diets are healthy. When stressed, we need to curb our tendency to, for one, overeat or to lean on foods carrying very little nutrition. Particularly highly processed food will be the most tasty and easy to access meal, albeit the least nutritious. Another good practice is to simply remember to take time for ourselves. Be kind. Read a good book, prepare a healthy meal. or practise a hobby. We can also use some of our time to be with family or friends.
There is Hope
The idea is to find means by which we can depressurise. Not only are we separating ourselves from the reality or situation causing us stress. We can also take that moment to put things in a better perspective. No, the sky is not falling and there is a way out. When we are calmer, solutions often arise that are least expected and usually from out of the blue. Stress seeks to box us in and trap us inside. We steadily lose hope in the blackness. But in the end, we are always the ones holding the keys to our freedom.