Susan B. Sloane, BS, RPh, CDE, has been a registered pharmacist for more than 20 years and a Certified Diabetes Educator for more than 15 years. Her two sons were diagnosed with diabetes, and since then, she has been dedicated to promoting wellness and optimal outcomes as a patient advocate, information expert, educator, and corporate partner.

We are all too familiar with the cute wall plaques: “Stay calm and carry on!” Well, that can be a lot easier said than done.

We live in a world where we are available 24/7 because of our technology and phones. If we are always available, we can always be interrupted. Most people don’t know how to relax anymore. Even when we lie down to sleep our computers or cell phones are within reach or earshot. We can even say that this type of constant stimulation is not a bother to us at all, that we don’t feel stressed, just more connected to others. The question is do we have to actually physically “feel” stress in order to know that we are stressed?

The causes of stress

The stress response, also known as “fight or flight,” was originally adapted to be able to flee from or fend off predators. In modern times, we are not running from prehistoric beasts, but there are many unseen forces that ignite the stress response. When our nervous systems get the signal that we have encountered a stressor, a flurry of hormones is released to help ramp up our bodies to be up for a challenge. These hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol play a role in helping us get energized for whatever foe we may be facing.

Occasional stress is fine as we all face stressors at various times. It is when that stress becomes embedded in our everyday life and is more chronic that it can pose a serious health problem.

After an acute stress like a scare or short illness, the body dials down the stress hormones and returns to a normal state. There is increasing evidence, however, that chronic or frequent stress never gives the body a chance to return stress hormones to normal and they remain elevated. This leads to inflammation inside of the body relating to blood vessels and possibly internal organs, and also leaves the body with toxic oxidative byproducts, which can be damaging to body tissues.

Tips to reduce stress

Now that you know the effect of stress and what stress hormones can do to your body, you may ask, "How can I not be stressed in this fast-paced world we live in?"

Although it is impossible to keep all stress out of our lives, it is possible to lessen our degree of stress by adopting a few healthy ways to approach stressful situations.

One of the best ways to help beat stress is to exercise! It is not necessary to become a star athlete; any type of increased physical activity is a great tool to reduce stress. There have been many published studies to help prove this.

Another great way to improve your stress tolerance is to work on developing a positive attitude. One of my very favorite quotes and a rule I try to live by is, “The miracle you wish for may not always be the miracle you receive.” Say you've been laid off from your job—this can be seen as a huge stressor and a negative. But I hear so many stories of people who took this time to find their true passion and an even better career. Find this positive attitude within you every day.

Of course another great way to lessen stress is to engage the support of others who are facing similar problems. It may not be able to solve all your problems, but will provide comfort and support in a caring community. Any support group that gives you comfort is great.