Friday, September 7, 2007

Real Stress, Real Lives


A big patch of blue is so hopeful. Top of the list of what we value, as a community, is our brilliant blue sky. Nature nurtures us. As we reel and bounce off the stresses of the Castle Rock Fire, reactions to the natural disaster vary from person to person in how we cope with stress.

Though we know that everything in life is impermanent, how we cope with stress can have a huge impact on our health. Not all stress is necessarily bad, as having a great variety of stimuli makes us interesting, enabling us to grow and learn, and shape how we choose to live. Not handling stress can take on many forms, such as headaches, trouble sleeping and concentrating, short tempers, upset stomachs, not eating or eating too much, anxiety, high blood pressure or anger. These symptoms all take a toll on our health.

As it turns out, women respond to stress much better than men, in part because scientists suspect women have a larger behavioral repertoire than the fight-or-flight response. Laure Klein, an assistant professor of biobehavioral health at Pennsylvania State University and researcher Shelley Taylor found that women produce the chemical oxytocin, which has a calming effect during stress, and is responsible in helping to make and maintain friendships with other women. This same chemical is released during childbirth and found in higher levels in breast-feeding mothers. While the calming effects of oxytocin increase because of a woman's estrogen, men's testosterone levels block them, sometimes causing hostility, anger and withdrawal.

In their book "Anger Kills: Seventeen Strategies for Controlling the Hostility That Can Harm Your Health," authors Dr. Redford Williams and Virginia Williams teach methods to use for small life-stressing situations, such as someone cutting in front of you on the highway. Stepping back briefly from a problem and looking at alternatives can dispel stress, they say. As well, they suggest that there are better ways to spend time than being upset. Time is too valuable to waste.

Carving out time for friends is good for everyone. In fact, studies show that people who kept their friends over a nine-year period cut their risk of death by over 60 percent. Make a little time to exercise also. You'll feel more in control, more relaxed and in a better mood.

The Yogic angle to our life stresses does use physical poses and postures, but its origins are rooted in a meditative practice, in which you start to relax and quiet down, stop constant thinking and practice being very still and present. B.K.S. Iyengar, who brought yoga to the West more than 50 years ago, teaches that "because breath is life, the art of judicious, thoughtful breathing is a prayer of gratitude we offer to life itself." Yoga teaches that what goes on in our world is much, much bigger than who we think we are.

Your meditation can be as simple as sitting quietly for 2 or 3 minutes each morning, even in bed after you awake. Try to relax completely during your exhalation and imagine a wave of warmth, quiet and calm. When things are not going well and everything seems emotionally charged, practice what works for you to be a stronger, healthier person.


Connie Aronson is American College of Sports Medicine health & fitness instructor certified, ACE Gold personal trainer and an IDEA elite personal trainer located at Koth Sports Physical Therapy in Ketchum.

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