David Spero, RN
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|STRESS =||(perceived) THREAT
If you want to reduce stress (and believe me, you do), this formula shows several ways to do it. We may be able to reduce the threats we face – for example, getting disability payments to avoid poverty, or moving to a safer neighborhood to avoid violence. You may be able to reduce your perception of threat – for example, realizing that if your husband yells at you, it’s not the end of the world. You’re still alive and you’re still a good person.
We can also reduce stress by increasing our sense of control. If you’re a young man in a neighborhood where the police harass young men, you may be able to learn skills for avoiding the cops or dealing with them. If you have diabetes and are deathly afraid of complications, learning to control your blood sugars through diet, exercise, relaxation and/or medications will give you a sense of control and reduce stress.
Other people are a major source of power. Strengthening connections with family, friends, neighbors, your congregation, or other people who share your problems (as in a support group) will reduce your stress and help you cope.
Self-confidence is a major element of power and perceived control. You can build self-confidence by accomplishing small goals, by learning more skills or by seeing people like you gain more control. If they can do it, you can too.
We can combine all four of these strategies by joining with other people to change threatening situations – for example, organizing for youth employment programs or cleaning up toxic pollution in our communities. Gaining power is not just for individuals. If we increase the strength of our community, we help everyone in the community, including ourselves.
For a more personal approach, relaxation, meditation, and prayer are powerful ways of reducing stress. They reduce perceived threat and make you feel more in control. Perhaps you can get some relaxation tapes, go to meditation or yoga class, join a church you believe in, or just take some time every day to sit and breathe.
The least healthy way to deal with stress is also the easiest way – by eating fats and sugars. Like cigarettes, these "comfort" foods make us feel more in control, less stressed. But the positive feelings won’t last long. In a very short time, you’ll feel worse than before, and you’ll need to do them again and again, leading to increased abdominal fat and insulin resistance.
Get Active -- The Indispensable Step
The healthiest way to deal with stress is the way the animals do, with physical activity. Stress tries to help us survive the only way it knows how, by getting us to move. If you don’t exercise, most of the glucose your body puts out will turn into abdominal fat. That’s why stress and inactivity are a lethal combination. Getting active lowers insulin resistance and sugar levels, while helping our hearts, minds, and spirits.
So get out and run or swim or bike or walk your dog. Consider exercise that makes you stronger and tougher – kick-boxing, weight-lifting, martial arts. You’ll wind up feeling more confident and therefore less stressed. Get active in your life, too. In an unhealthy environment, taking the path of least resistance will make you sick. You’ll do better if you decide what to eat, what to do, what’s important to you, instead of letting a sick culture make you into a passive consumer.