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This month’s column was co-written with Lyndsey Malkovich, an intern from Oakland University’s Wellness, Health Promotion, & Injury Prevention Program.

Stress. We’ve all experienced it and though it gets a bad rap, without it we wouldn’t get much done. A little bit of stress is actually good for us. It motivates us to do the things we need to do to stay healthy and well. It’s when we let it get out of hand, that it causes problems. Left unchecked, it can lead to a variety of health problems including headaches, sleep disorders, chronic pain, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, anxiety and depression to name just a few.

When faced with a stressful situation, our bodies react by producing a cascade of chemicals that among other things, heightens our senses, constricts our blood vessels, tenses our muscles, raises our blood pressure, dilates our pupils, and increases our heart and breathing rates. Sensing danger, our bodies are getting us ready to fight or flee. Back in the caveman days, when our biggest dangers were lions, tigers, and bears, such a reaction could literally be lifesaving. We would use the resulting extra boost of energy we would get to either fight off the threat or run away and escape from it.

Nowadays, our biggest threats are less tangible and include chronic conditions, bills, deadlines, internet scams, and traffic jams. And though we might badly want to, we really can’t run away from them and we certainly aren’t going to hit them. Yet, our bodies still react the same way. If we don’t do something to dissipate this pent up energy, things will eventually start to go astray.

Fortunately, there are things we can do to quell these present day dangers:

  • Exercise – it’s the modern equivalent to fighting or fleeing. Whether you do aerobics, yoga, walk, swim or dance, the key is to move your body!
  • Meditate – it will calm both your body and your mind. Inhale deeply through your nose then slowly exhale through pursed lips for twice as long as you breathe in. Doing this simple meditation 10-15 minutes daily can work wonders!
  • Socialize – it will connect you to others with whom you can share and express your feelings and concerns. An empathetic ear can help lift some of that weight off your shoulders!
  • Laugh – it will release endorphins, which are our body’s natural “feel-good” chemicals. There are plenty of YouTube videos, Netflix comedies, and other forms of entertainment out there that can inspire a laugh. Find what works for you and let the belly shaking begin!