You’ve probably seen those T-shirts that say, Keep Calm, or Stay Calm, and whatever other issue they’re promoting. The other day, I saw an older man walking around the mall who had one on. It read, “Keep Calm and Stay Alive”. I wondered if he knew that health researchers have recently proven how true that simple statement really is. That’s why I want to talk to you about how controlling your stress response can save your health and your life.
We’ve talked before about how stress impacts your health. Not good. Chronic stress worsens any health condition. But, stress can also create disease where it didn’t exist before. It plays a major role in creating numerous chronic conditions, as well as more acute conditions. Especially the “Big 4″ diseases associated with aging: Diabetes, heart disease, cognitive decline, even cancer. Older people are particularly at risk, especially women.
You’re probably wondering, if stress creates all those diseases, why do I need to worry about smoking, watching my diet, controlling my weight, sleeping enough, or getting enough exercise? Well, it’s because engaging in poor lifestyle choices like these create stress for your entire body. Profound emotional, life-changing events, like death of a loved one, divorce, loss of your job or your home, also produces a high level of stress.
When your body is chronically stressed from toxins, poor diets, lack of exercise, obesity, life events, you produce large amounts of a protein called cytokines. These cytokines create deadly inflammation throughout your entire body. If the stress is left unchecked, a chronic breakdown of tissues starts to occur. Think of a continuously burning wild fire in a forest. If that fire is left to burn uncontrolled, it’s just a matter of time before the forest is destroyed.
Your body is like that forest. With widespread inflammation damage, you can develop heart disease, diabetes, memory issues, or cancer.
But, we all have stress in our lives, right? Does that mean you’re doomed to getting one of these major illnesses at some point from cumulative life stressors?
Thankfully, no. You can keep your body’s devastating stress reaction under control just by the way you respond to it. That’s where our T-shirt logo comes in.
Researchers at Penn State University have found that staying calm and staying positive, during stressful life events, can mean the difference between illness and staying healthy. Their study showed that adopting a positive mood actually lowered inflammatory biomarkers in lab studies.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should stay calm and continue to smoke, or engage in other unhealthy lifestyles that create inflammation. Those are health stressors that you have control over. The more unhealthy, inflammation-creating situations you get rid of, the healthier you’ll stay.
It may seem easier said than done to stay calm and positive with traumatic life changes. But, controlling your stress response doesn’t mean going around with a fake “happy face”. And, it doesn’t mean holding in, or hiding, your upset emotions. On the contrary, letting those emotions out actually helps your body detox from the stress. It helps turn off cytokine production. What staying positive really means is that, during stressful events, you have to beef up your stress-reducing strategies. Let’s look at some of the best ones:
1. Exercise. It may be the last thing you feel like doing during stressful conditions, but it’s one of the biggest stress-buster, immune system boosters you have. Even if you just go for a simple walk, bike ride, swim by yourself, you’re helping to put out those inflammation fires. It boosts brain serotonin levels that calms your mood. Exercise can really be as effective as taking a prescription “mood elevating” drug. In the long run, adopting a daily routine of even 30 minutes of your favorite “stress buster” routine, can help you stay healthy.
2. Meditation. People who regularly meditate know how to “stay calm” in bad situations. Like cleaning out a wound, it’s important to first let out the upset response to stressors when they occur. But, then you need a period of calm, letting your mind and body relax and heal from that vigilant response. Your psyche needs to rest and regroup. Meditating can help you do that. It’s best to find a quiet place like your bedroom, your yard, a public park, to just sit and breathe. Churches that have labyrinth walks are great places to both meditate and walk at the same time. They usually also have benches where you can sit for a while to think and sort things through.
3. Diet. Good nutrition also helps your body fight stress and keep you calm. Making sure you have enough magnesium (a natural stress reliever), calcium, B-vitamins, especially B6 and B12, getting enough protein, vegetables and fruits, can all help keep your brain serotonin levels balanced. In addition, keeping your diet more alkali than acid will dial-down inflammation in your body. That means omitting, or limiting, refined sugar, and/or “white” carbohydrates (bread, baked goods) that are major acid producers.
4. Social outlets. When you’re stressed out from life events, you may not feel like socializing very much. But, even just getting out of the house with a friend, your child, your spouse, to a quiet movie, for a drive, or walk in the park, can help calm down stress responses.
All of us have stress in our lives. The older you get, the more stressors you’ll likely face. But, it isn’t how much stressful events that occur, it’s how well you handle them. Staying calm and positive can help you stay healthy. The T-shirt is optional.