You're fed up. The kids are bugging you, your job is demanding and the housework never ends. Tired, irritable and unable to sleep at night, you want relief. This is stress.
Stress starts when your body is confronted with more than it can handle be it physical, emotional or mental. At first, your body prepares by increasing adrenalin production. You know the signs: pounding heart, heavy breathing, sweating, tense muscles. However, when stress persists, physical preparation turns into physical deterioration. Here are some simple suggestions how you can decrease the stress in your life.
Step 1. No Caffeine
America's wake-up call, caffeine, is her downfall as well. This ubiquitous stimulant is found in coffee, black tea, chocolate, soft drinks and some medications such as cold remedies, diet formulas and wake-up pills.
It's easy to understand why caffeine ranks as the most popular drug in the world and the United States (about nine out of ten Americans consume caffeine) (American Family Physician, 1991, vol 43). Caffeine not only wakes you up, it also sharpens concentration and temporarily chases away the blues. No wonder a cloudy town like Seattle boasts coffee drinking as its number one past-time.
Unfortunately, most people use caffeine's stimulating qualities to prop themselves up during tense times. Martin Feldman, MD, a New York physician says: "In our society, the stress of day-to-day living has a tendency to 'wear out' our adrenal glands." Caffeine is an ideal way to squeeze more adrenalin and norephinephrine out of the adrenals for a boost of energy. This constant jolting is tiring for both you and your adrenals. The result is usually another cup of coffee, exhaustion and addiction (The Journal of Orthomolecular Psychiatry, volume 13, number 1).
Stress and caffeine build upon one another. You can't sleep at night because of stress; caffeine makes it worse. Stress sends you into mood swings; caffeine pushes you harder. Caffeinism, caffeine addiction, can't be turned off at will so sleepless nights and restless days take a toll on your already stressed-out body.
Besides adding to stress, caffeine causes "coffee nerves", that nervous, irritable, anxious feeling. Other complaints include insomnia, increased urination, headaches, irregular or fast heartbeat, stomach pain, breathing problems, excessive sweating, spots in front of your eyes, ringing in your ears and tingling in your fingers and toes (Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook (2nd ed) (Williams & Wilkins) by Joyce H. Lowinson, MD et al (eds)).
Dan, a longtime coffee drinker, told me: "I quit coffee and don't want to drink it again. I found coffee harder to quit than smoking cigarettes." Desire aside, withdrawing from caffeine, even moderate usage, is difficult. Symptoms include headaches, fatigue, nausea, muscle pains, changeable mood and foggy thinking.
Give yourself a week to break the caffeine habit. To ease the pain of withdrawal, take extra vitamin C, drink calming teas like chamomile, peppermint and valerian and avoid other addictive substances like refined sugar and alcohol.
Step 2. Rest and Relaxation
Because of stress-and as a way to deal with a busy, stressful schedule-many people skimp on sleep. This is a big mistake. Less sleep not only deprives your body of necessary down time, but it can exacerbate stress and compound other health problems.