Florida provides a unique group of potential stressors, like alligator attacks.
As a species, we survive by our ability to respond to stressful situations. When you see a scary Florida site, like a bear or alligator or Interstate 4 traffic – your body naturally prepares to fight or flee. This natural response keeps you alert and energized. Your heart pounds, blood pressure jumps, blood sugar rises, and you are ready for the hostile elements as adrenaline cruises through your veins. Your body also responds with stress to big positive events, like walking down the wedding aisle or doing your first skydive.
Of course, most stress comes from more than the wildlife and heights. Finances, relationships, work and time crunches are common stress triggers. The stress of bears, gators or skydiving is sudden and quick – acute stress. Stress that goes on over time – chronic stress such as financial and work woes – can wear you down and harm your health. Stress can cause a range of problems, including memory loss, learning difficulties, depression, insomnia and back pain. Stress can exacerbate diabetes and heart disease and also weaken your immune system, leaving you prone to infections. Some studies have shown a link between stress and cancer.
You can manage stress. The first step is recognizing your own stress signs. Some people eat more; others eat less. A pounding heart, racing pulse, spiked blood pressure, tight muscles, and diarrhea are common stress signs. Some people get very irritable when stressed; others cry at anything. Some laugh nervously while others subdue their stress with drugs or alcohol. Sometimes the first sign of ongoing stress is inability to concentrate or pay attention.
Your food choices can help you manage stress. Comfort foods high in carbohydrates, such as cereal, bread and pasta, can stimulate your brain to make more serotonin, which regulates mood and feelings of wellbeing. Oranges and leaf greens can help. The calcium in low fat milk or yogurt can also address stress. While a candy bar may seem like a quick antidote to stress, the simple sugars give you an initial boost and then an energy crash.
Make yourself more resilient to stress. A good support network, a sense of control and a positive outlook can build your ability to manage stress and bounce back from it. Healthy living, with good meals, exercise and enjoyable relationships can help build your stress resilience. Positive thinking can help you reframe your stress. Applying the Losada principle – saying three positive things for every negative utterance – turns stressful pessimism into a more positive outlook. Setting realistic goals and defining your priorities can put stress into a healthier perspective.
Recognizing stress and managing it before it takes over is not only good for your health, but also gives you the clear mind you need to address the stress – or the gator or bear. If you do encounter one of Florida’s bears, even though your fight or flee instinct will kick in, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recommends you do not run. “If you encounter a bear at close range, remain standing upright, back up slowly and speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice.” Yep, you will need to manage stress at that point pretty well, and think very clearly.
Maitland resident Nancy Rudner Lugo is a nurse practitioner and president of Health Action, offering workplace health consulting and nurse coaching. Visit www.healthaction.biz