Don’t Waste Your Time Trying to Befriend a Mad Dog.

By Peter Holmes

During the winter months, I always see my clients more stressed than usual. I can see their stress looming above their head long before they begin to speak. This time of year is especially rough for busy parents, students and workers. Stress can be caused by a number of events:  major life changes, work, relationship difficulties, financial problems, family and just plain being too busy.

Managing stress is all about taking charge:  taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment and the way you deal with problems. You may not be able to control events, but you can always control the way you respond. Stress management involves changing the stressful situation when you can, changing your reaction when you cannot, taking care of yourself and making time for rest and relaxation.

When you perceive a threat, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones rouse the body for emergency action:  your heart begins to pound faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed your reaction time and enhance your focus – preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand.

The body does not distinguish between physical and psychological threats. Stress over a busy schedule, an argument with a friend, a mountain of bills or a genuine life or death situation – the response is the same. The more your body’s stress system is activated, the easier it is to trip and the harder it is to shut off.

Stress is a contributing factor 100% of the time in illness. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility and speed up the aging process. Long term stress can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.

But stress is not always bad:  in small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best. But when you are constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price.

Exercise in combination with stress management techniques is extremely important. Exercise can provide an effective distraction from stressful events and may directly blunt the harmful effects of stress on blood pressure and the heart. Plus, exercise is a proven mood enhancer. After a good workout, my clients always feel happier and energized.

Remember, you are in control! Defeat stress before it defeats you. Identify the source of your stress, restructure your priorities and plan ahead so you can change your response to stress. When that is not enough, join me at That Gym Guy’s studio at 3 Regency Plaza, Providence, Rhode Island for a feel-good workout to melt your stress away.

Here is a quote from Hans Salye (1974) that continues to inspire me in my day-to-day routine:   “Don’t waste your time trying to befriend a mad dog. Don’t strive for perfection (it doesn’t exist). Genuine simplicity in life earns much goodwill and love; keep your mind on the pleasant aspects of life and on actions which can improve your situation. Forget ugly events. When frustrated, take stock of your past successes and rebuild your confidence. When faced with a very painful task, yet very important, don’t procrastinate – cut right into the abscess to eliminate the pain instead of prolonging it by gently rubbing the surface. Love your neighbor and work hard to earn your neighbor’s love.”

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