Monday, March 03, 2008

Stress Buster

We all deal with certain amounts of stress in our daily lives, and to pretend we can resolve the “stress issue” here in a few brief paragraphs, could uh…stress me out. Ha! But in order to get a handle on stress, we need to understand what it is, and how it affects our health for good or bad. Not all stress is bad, certain stresses, called eustress, allow us to feel most of the euphoric events in our lives – like the thrill of a roller coaster or meeting a challenge - and has a positive effect on us both mentally and physically. But when stress remains unresolved, either through not coping or not adapting, it can turn into distress and cause emotional and physical consequences as well. One kind of stress can lead to growth and leaning while the other can make you ill.

In 1956, Hans Selye researched a model on stress called the General Adaptation Syndrome. This model attempts to define the different levels of stress, giving us a clearer understanding of them. The G.A.S. (add your joke here) has three levels:

  1. Alarm:  This is our bodies’ natural response to stressful stimulus and is there to protect us. Often known as the “fight or flight” syndrome.
  2. Resistance:  If the stress persists, it is necessary to find some way of coping with it. If coping does not happen, the bodies’ resources are slowly depleted.
  3. Exhaustion:  The bodies’ resources are eventually depleted; the immune system is exhausted. The result can manifest itself in various ways such as ulcers, depression, cardiovascular problems, decreased digestion, even an increase in such diseases as diabetes or cancer.
Countless studies on stress have shown it's profound impact on our well-being. These studies also express the importance of finding coping mechanisms to deal with it.  One of the most effective ways of coping is – you guessed it – exercise.

During "stress response" around 1500 biochemical reactions occur in the body. Some of these reactions come from our prehistoric brothers and sisters, where stress was a necessary reaction for survival. Most stress in the modern world comes from psychosocial stimulus and our harmful physical reactions to it, have nothing to do with survival. We just think it does. The big problem is that the chemical byproducts from these reactions (to said stimuli) are still floating around inside of us, unresolved, and in concentrations our bodies can’t handle, leaving us vulnerable to sickness and disease. Regular exercise is shown to be useful in removing these chemicals by duplicating the “fight or flight” response. It allows the body to return to homeostasis (a stable and balanced physiological state) faster, and thus reducing the effects of stress on our systems.

Whether it's yoga, running skiing, swimming, Slim In Six or P90X, any form of physical activity, especially repetitive ones, seem to have a positive result. Exercise not only helps release damaging chemicals during stress, it actually releases dopamine and other brain goodies that make us feel euphoric and calm us down. Physical activity also releases endorphins, which has a similar chemical reaction in the body as some opiates (even though the research is still ongoing and somewhat controversial) 

Exercise can also help us with another component of stress; psychological or mental stress. It can foster feelings of self-confidence and self esteem. Many find the solitude of workout time to be a period for introspection and healthy escape. When we exercise with others, play soccer, softball or gather together in WOWY, we gain a sense of community and connect emotionally with others. Regular exercise helps us sleep better, it reduces muscular tension, decreases boredom, it builds our immune system to better fight off common everyday disease and illness. All these factors contribute to overall health and help us combat the effects of stress.  

It is up to each of us to do our own research in order to understand stress better and how we can best resolve it in our own lives. Through trial and error find out which combination of coping mechanisms work best for you, either mental, physical or both, to put you on the right path to live a healthier and happier life. 


Christopher said...

Interesting information on stress. We all have our different ways of coping with stress and as you say, it's important to find the most healthy choice in dealing with said stress.

For myself, and something you may want to research on is Tai Chi. Tai Chi is a great way to build up internal organs which also help with dealing with stress and is extremely relaxing. I think the difference between Tai Chi and Yoga is that Yoga stretches and relaxes your tendons and muscles where Tai Chi relaxes and builds the internal organs. Just as you say, it's best to do with a community and Tai Chi is best done in the morning with a group. There are many places and people that do this.

Tai Chi is also considered moving meditation and is another way to strengthen the mind. Using the concepts and teachings of the Tao Te Ching, it's a great way to relax the mind and meditate on THE Tai Chi (the ultimate of the Yin and Yang).

Taoists also have specific breathing techniques that massage the internal organs and relax them which also is extremely beneficial in dealing with stress. Taoists for centuries have been learning to relax the mind but probably didn't realize how applicable this calmness can be applied to our hectic world.

Also as you say, we all have ways of dealing with stress. Personally, I feel to attain balance, exercises should be external (P90X, kung fu, kenpo, body building, yoga) and also internal (Tai Chi, Pa Kua, Hsing I) and THAT will be a ride you will never forget on a daily basis. Coupled that with meditation and reading good philosophical passages to ponder (western and eastern), we all can gain an enlightened existence that transcends the bad stress of the world.

Chris Ortega

9_Reps said...

Hi everybody! It's been a while. Hello to Tony, Traci, Nick, Joe and everyone else.

My Ten Minute Trainer series was delivered yesterday and I did the Cardio segment, followed by some heavy bag, WaveMaster drills and about 30 minutes of various belt Kenpo techniques. I'm actually sore today. Actually just got back from lessons and I'm about to put the Total Body segment in and run through that. I've been looking forward to these since they were previewed for us at camp back in July. They're perfect for category completion to supplement some of the bag drills and freeform striking / kicking practice sessions I've been doing. A little structure, a little chaos...makes a good harmonic...

Also - Tony, my Mom started "Tony and the Folks" last week and loves it. She's 78 and had been doing an ad hoc workout from exercises she'd gleaned from clipping stuff out of the Health section of the Sunday paper and some pamphlets she picked up at a wellness seminar or two. She's 78 and looks amazing doing "radar dish", the dumbell routines and the other moves. Thank you, dude!


Amit said...


I couldn't agree with you more. After i started P90x i am so full of energy that people are asking me about it... i have a really hectic schedule and i have been waking up to the P90x everyday at 6am for 2 months now ( i am in the recovery week of level II). There is no better stress buster in this world than to start your day by "bringing it" first thing in the morning and then off course enjoying the recovery drink! Have a wonderful week bro...


niko63 said...

Hey Tony,

I'm still a single guy living in the Big Apple in a studio apartment in the clouds. So, you can just imagine the everyday stressors my mind and body have been undergoing for the past ten years:) Through all the ups and downs, the let-downs, disappointments, the upturns, the crappy jobs, the perfect jobs, horrible bosses, passive/aggressive coworkers, boozy characters, wacky girlfriends, etc., exercise and fitness have always been my most loyal friends. Yes, the path has always been clear and wide, unencumbered by the daily grind. Coping has never been so good! Whether I'm down on the floor for that last set of killer diamond pushups or auditioning for the cover of Downward Dog magazine:), all resistance, alarm and exhaustion is seen passing by in the rearview mirror, disappearing into the swirling road dust of my speeding success and happiness.

You're right on when you say that survival has nothing to do with stress from psychosocial stimuli and our inadequate physical reactions to it. In fact, are we merely surviving, or also striving and thriving. Survival without striving in life just ain't getting the job done. It's like throwing a jab/cross without turning your hip and's half-a$$ed! And that is a major source of stress.

When homeostasis is interrupted (e.g., by response to a stressor), the body tries to restore it by adjusting one or more physiological processes. This stress-adaption mechanism includes activation of the Hypothalamic-Pitauitary-Andrenal Axis (HPA Axis) with the autonomous nervous system and endocrine reactions of the body. So, in other words, a whole lot of things can go wrong when we stress out, from wild fluctuations in blood sugar levels to itchy rashes and panic attacks. Let's all try to chill out, kids! It could always be worse.

P.S. Tony, can't wait to see you again in DC, brutha!
Johnny--Great job with your workouts, my friend. And congrats to your mom, great to hear that!

Phil said...

Amen on this one. I am doing P90 primarily for stressbusting. The other benefits are great too, but for me the #1 is to keep the day job in check. Gotta do my P90. And I'm actually sticking to the 1-2 routines, generally. I vary the intensity of weight reps to keep it interesting.

Keep bringing it!