The word stress comes from the Latin word “stringere” meaning to “draw tight.” Stress in an inherent part of the human experience - the right amount of stress feels good and makes us want to get up and pursue new activities in life. Starting a new career is a stressful event, but once we get over the initial stress response, we feel a great rush of joy for trying something new. The problem with stress, is that humans are not very good at turning it off. We encounter several hundred acute stress responses through out the day that kill brain cells, shrink our brain, and adds fat to our bodies. It is estimated that over 70% of hospital visits are related to stress.
Stress is not something we should put aside and decide to think about at a later date. We have non-stop stress responses throughout the day. When we're sitting in traffic we are producing a bath of hormones that are wreaking havoc on our bodies. Our heart pounds, our muscles tense up in a fight mode, the response to stress is more damaging to the body then the actual stressful event.
Stress wasn’t evolutionary designed to kill us, it actually was a chemical that kept us alive for millions of years. It was designed to deal with threats that could possibly harm us - if we saw a bear in the wild, the stress response would kick in and make us run for our lives. A great deal of our psychological stress comes from a lack of control of some specific event. They say stress makes us stupid - this is true. Science has proven that the hippocampus, the part of the brain that stores memory, is adversely affected. The pleasure part of the brain is also affected by stress.
All of us have laid in bed late at night thinking about our next project or event at work. Then we sit and run the pattern over and over in our mind saying, “I have to go to sleep, I have to go sleep.” This only leads to more and more stress. Psychological stress will translate into actual physical stress causing your body to have aches and pains and sleeping problems.
Did you know that people who suffer from overwhelming amounts of stress loose brains cells that store memory? Stress greatly weakens the immune system making us venerable to all different types of ailments. Stress makes you three times more likely to catch a cold. Several viruses lay dormant in your body and they are only activated by the stress response.
Most of the stress responses are caused because our mind spends to much time thinking about the future and not the present. Meditation gives us a tool to place our mind back into the present to give us a way to clearly think about the future. There have been studies that show those who drive a route that has a lot of traffic end up at work everyday with more stress hormones. If we only worked on focusing on our breathing and/or practiced meditation we would be able to greatly reduce this. Meditation is the greatest tool we have to combat stress, and I encourage everyone to take ten minutes and begin a meditation practice today.