A “Stress to Strength” workshop Tuesday at the Harker Heights library and activities center was the first of two community classes focusing on healthy living.
Chaplain Jennifer Cobb, director of Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care at Seton Medical Center Harker Heights, explained what happens in the body as it responds to stress and to relaxation.
She said the physiology of the body responding to stress results in a lowering of the immune function, and an increase in metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate and muscle tension. Conversely, the physiology of the body responding to relaxation results in a raising of the immune function, and a lowering of metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate and muscle tension.
Stress triggers the “fight, flight or freeze response,” which interferes with the body functioning optimally.
There are helpful ways, and harmful ways to deal with stress, Cobb said.
Helpful ways include reducing or minimizing ongoing exposure to stressors, recognizing limitations, increasing stress relieving activities, laughing, finding inspiration and staying connected, Cobb said.
“Sometimes that can’t be helped,” said Joel Conley, reference librarian.
Cobb agreed that reducing or minimizing stress may not be possible.
“We do what we can, we identify where we can reduce stress,” Cobb said, adding that laughing is quite healthful. “If you’ve had a really bad day, go home and watch a movie.”
One way to find and stay connected to inspiration is to make a dream board, a way Cobb said “for people to visually illustrate their goals and dreams.”
“It’s something to work toward, and it helps them feel grounded,” she said.
Ways to engage the relaxation response include meditation, prayer or breathing techniques. A way to focus visually during meditation is to make a meditation jar, a mixture of water, glue and glitter in a jar or bottle.
Engaging the relaxation response on a daily basis builds resistance to the damaging effects of stress.
“Being still is hard to do, but at the same time it is incredibly beneficial,” Cobb said about meditation. “Early in meditation, your mind will go in a zillion different directions, and you’ve got to give your mind permission to do that. It’s like any other exercise. Once you can do it, you can tap into it in times of crisis.”
Using the illustration of a plate at Thanksgiving, Cobb said, “There’s only so much room. We have to ask if I add this, what am I going to take off. And so often we take off self-care. We’ve got to make time for self-care.”
Self-care can include exercise, engaging in a hobby or making time to eat nutritional food.
A class on nutrition and stress is at 6 p.m. July 22 at the activities center. Dietitian Megan Norwood will provide information and tips on how nutrition can reduce stress.