Stress and the Red Zone

How much stress are you undergoing?  And how much effect does it have on your life?

Stress is a multidimensional feature of chronic illness.  It can affect mood swings, blood sugar levels, weight gain or loss, inflammation and other problems.  And stress can sneak up on you without warning.

We all live with stressors in the modern world, and we often make compromises with them in ways that are detrimental to our long-term health.  24/7 availability on the cell phone and email, binge watching, competitive social media and other risky uses of electronic media do damage even before we become aware of it.

Dr. Rangan Chatterjee, whose book, The Stress Solution, was recently reviewed in the New York Times, says that chronic stress is often overlooked as a root cause of illnesses, including high blood pressure, insomnia and depression.  He recommends addressing stress before trying to treat the illness, because, even if the disease regresses for a time, if the underlying stress continues, the other symptoms will sooner or later resume.

Dr. Rick Hanson counsels us to maintain awareness and intentionality around stress and stress management.  Using the metaphor of Green, Yellow, Orange and Red Zones, he reminds us to always have the meter running in the back of our minds.  That way, when we realize the needle is edging up into the Yellow or Orange zones, we can take control of our time and step back for a pause.

Go outside for a minute or two, do a two-minute meditation, eat something, or just practice breathing exercises.  Hanson notes that our bodies can move from the relaxed Green Zone to the hyper-alert Red Zone in a heartbeat, but it takes time for the stress hormones to be metabolized out of our systems so that we can return to the productive and nurturing Green Zone.  We need to build awareness of how stress works on our system so that we can stay on top of the effects it has on us. Stress is a real problem in modern life, and learning how to keep it under control is an important tool in the wellness toolbox.  Without solid stress management skills, we risk a variety of illness and a variety of health limitations and damages.