Sunday, June 1, 2014

Empathy Stress is Damaging Just Like Your Own Stress

Ever mention the word stress to someone?  They give you the look that they totally can relate to what you are saying.  "Stress, I know exactly what you are talking about," is the common answer to someone experiencing too much stress.  It seems we are a stressed society. 

To even add to your stress, a recent study looked at the existence of empathic stress which is defined as a full-blown physiological stress response that arises solely by observing another undergo a stressful situation.  The study measured the cortisol (stress hormone) levels in participants observing other people's stress.  Cortisol levels surged higher when people were in a closer relationship with the individual undergoing a stressful situation but there were still significant cortisol level increases from watching strangers or even just watching a television show.

A person's stress level is a major factor in one's overall health by negatively impacting one's risk of chronic health conditions like heart disease, depression and obesity.  High cortisol can cause or exacerbate all those conditions.  Additionally, it interferes with other body functions like sleep, digestion and memory.  Too much stress is a huge negative to one's health. 

In Ayurveda stress is treated holistically by using meditation as a way to calm the body's response to high levels of cortisol.  Meditation lowers cortisol levels and gives the body a rest.  Sleep and eating healthy food in a peaceful setting also lowers cortisol.

Ayurveda also teaches that one must be very selective about what one chooses to experience.  Specifically, music should be soothing, upsetting media should be avoided and positive recreation should be enjoyed.  The things we see affect our brain chemistry and hormone levels as evidenced by the recent study.  There are certain things we cannot control, and these things may cause us stress.  However, the things we can control and allow in our experience should be positive, not cause us additional stress.

One may find it hard to believe that other people's stress or unpleasant things can cause real stress to our body because it does not impact us as personally or deeply as 'real' stress.  The study shows otherwise.  Stress is very unhealthy.  Stress is even more insidious than other risk factors because it subtly sneaks up over time, draining your vitality one day at a time.  The excess stress catches up with you to have you find a bigger health issue making you sick.  Things like always getting a cold, trouble sleeping, gaining weight without a diet change, becoming very forgetful, digestive issues, chronic fatigue, depression and much more are the signs of too much stress. 

Clearly, regular stress management is crucial. For example, one might stay away from negative or overly stressed individuals, or try turning off the nightly news when it is too upsetting.  This will help avoid the perils of feeling empathic stress. However, one must also incorporate tools for personal stress and that is a personal choice.  A health coach or Ayurvedic Health Practitioner can help you create a soothing and supportive routine.

Stay healthy & well,

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