We all experience varying degrees of stress every day due to work, family obligations, finances, health, or relationships. Our nervous system is designed to respond to stress for protection through the “Fight or Flight” response. When stress is experienced, our pupils dilate, our breathing increases, our heart rate goes up, and the blood is pulled into the chest and abdomen, all in preparation to be able to fight or flee a proposed threat. The result of this response is the release of adrenaline and cortisol, two hormones that can impair the immune system when released on a regular basis.
When we live each day running from one activity to another, working long hours, or neglecting ourselves of sleep, and rest, the result is an exhausted nervous system. Heart disease, digestive problems, depression, and autoimmune disorders, such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, are a few of the health conditions associated with high levels of stress.
The stress response is not what happens to us, but how our mind and body responds through thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Some signs of stress include:
- Increased or decreased sleep;
- Digestive problems;
- Lack of energy; or
- Chronic pain.
The way each person responds to stress is dependent on several factors. Genetics, inherited traits from our parents, can influence our ability to handle varying levels of stress. Also, stress responses are influenced by our environment and can be learned—like forming a habit. Some people develop poor coping techniques which further impairs the body from recovering from the stress. These can include:
- Recreational drug use;
- Sleeping too much or too little;
- Angry outbursts;
- Compulsive eating; or
- Staying too busy to avoid problems.
Stress can, and should, be managed to prevent chronic illness and promote quality of life. Through adequate sleep, a healthy diet, exercise, and healthy relationships, stress can be minimized to return to a balanced nervous system. If these activities are not sufficient to restore health, professional counseling with an emphasis on behavior modification, along with medication, may result in the best outcome.
In Psalm 131, David gave us access to the inner life of a person with composure—not one who was busy or obsessed, or anxious, or spinning out of control, but of one who was quiet. Composure is learned, achieved, and purposeful, and takes hard work and self-discipline to keep the everyday stresses from invading one’s inner peace.
“Peace to all of you who are in Christ” (1 Peter 5:14b).
Parish Nurses tailor their duties to fit the needs of their congregations and communities. Their responsibilities may include: health education, personal health counseling, liaison to community health resources, coordinator of volunteers, and integrator of faith and healing. For more information, visit www.michigandistrict.org/parishnurse.
Take a Stress Quiz
To learn if you have high stress levels that may need to be addressed, go to www.michigandistrict.org/parishnurse to take a Stress Quiz. By completing this quiz, you can identify areas in your life which you can address, leading to a healthier lifestyle. Self-awareness is necessary to work toward self-improvement. Make the commitment to yourself and your family today to reduce your stress and live a joyful life.