` Columbia Journal- Got Stress? Get Adequate Rest.
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Got Stress?
by Diane Forbes, DC

Get Adequate Rest.

Our general state of health revolves around the principle of homeostasis. Homeostasis is a very simple concept that suggests that the body prefers to maintain an unchanging (homeo) standing (stasis). I like to think of homeostasis as the "home state," a condition that is like getting home at the end of each day to the place where we are most comfortable.

For me this means getting into some sloppy clothes, petting my cat and spending time with my spouse. Here my level of stress is very low (most often), I am feeling well and I am recovering from today's activities, while preparing for tomorrow's challenges.

Homeostasis relates to a state of being that stable. If our temperature rises because of the flu, it is inclined to return to a base level of temperature. This is why we monitor temperature in illness. It tells us how far we are from the base level of body activity. Other states of base level are resting heart rate, base metabolic rate (approximately how many calories we burn at rest) and levels of hormone production.

Circumstances throughout the day arise that require us to expend energy and take us away from the "home state." These are situations that challenge our body, and can be lumped into one big category: stress. We often think of stressors, these circumstances that are stressful on our body, as being negative. But in fact stressors can also be caused by happy events. Winning the lotto, and being called by the tax department both cause our blood pressure to rise, don't they?

Each day we encounter numerous stressors, each of which need to be recovered from. It is important that our body return to this base level. An inability to do this burns up excessive amounts of energy, taxing our bodies, which can have lasting negative impacts on our health. If we don't have time to recover from today's stress before we start tomorrow we end up with escalating stress levels that can contribute to chronic health problems such as anxiety disorders, high blood pressure, depression and heart failure.

So how should we manage stress? Each time we challenge our body, we need to provide adequate rest, so that we can start fresh for the next challenge. Routine and regular sleep times are a simple and effective method, for maintaining balance in our system. We need between six to ten hours each night in order to feel refreshed the next morning. Even more importantly is that finding that sleep quality is improved when we go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Shift workers have been found to have lower quality of sleep recovery than non-shift workers, even if they get the same number of hours rest.

Light exercises, like daily stretching and walking, are also effective methods for relieving stress. Beware of over training though, which occurs if you are exercising at a level that is not quickly (daily) recovered from. And remember, physical labour does not equal exercise. The former is repetitive activity that uses the same groups of tissues over and over. Exercise is activity that activates many different tissues at different times.

Mental relaxation is also very important and can come in many forms: prayer, music appreciation, meditation, hobbies, quieting our minds and releasing excess mental activity. Just as a holiday takes us away from our responsibilities, and a mental break takes us away from our cognitive tasks.

In practice I think of maintaining homeostasis in the same way as I think of collecting money in a piggy bank. Imagine that five dollars is the level of money you need to maintain in your piggy bank in order to feel happy. This is the level of health savings to maintain homeostasis. Then imagine that stressors spend your pennies in amounts that are equal to their intensity, and that rest and recovery activities save you pennies. How much stress wealth we spend determines how much rest and recovery we have to save up.

Good stress reduction skills actually allow for rapid recovery from daily stressors, and can really be helpful for recovery from hugely stressful events that may come our way. This is why I consider rest and recovery skills to be significantly important to maintaining our optimal levels of health. They are defensive actions that keep us comfortable in the home environment of our bodies.

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