The Presidential election has been called. But we are not here to talk about politics. We are here to talk about the STRESS that comes along with it. No matter which side of the aisle you sit, politics can be stressful.
It can be so stressful, in fact, that as the politics heat up some of us promptly bury our heads in the sand. A 2011 study by Jeffrey French and others at the University of Nebraska-Omaha showed that people with the highest baseline cortisol levels (stress hormones present in the blood) were the least likely to vote in elections.
For those who do participate in the process and vote for a candidate who loses, stress levels can skyrocket. Several studies done after the 2008 presidential election showed significantly more cortisol in saliva samples taken from individuals who had supported McCain. This was true both right after the election was decided and during the week that followed. Read more here and here.
What exactly is all this stress doing to our bodies?
When someone is faced with something stressful, his or her brain sounds an alarm. The news is passed on to the adrenal glands (located above the kidneys) and they flood the body with hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
These hormones make the heart beat faster and cause blood pressure to rise. Sugar is released into the bloodstream, and the brain improves in its ability to absorb it. The brain uses this suger to become more alert and to give the body more energy.
This alarm system is hardwired in the human body–and that can be a good thing. Early in our evolution it helped us fight off saber-toothed tigers and outrun avalanches.
In today’s world, though, we are a lot safer and most of the time our stressors aren’t life threatening. But, because we are still wired the same, any stress (say, a presidential election) can put our bodies on high alert, which triggers all the same physiological changes.
These changes like increased blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar, are not inherently bad, especially when you consider how much they can help in a life-threatening moment. They become a problem with overexposure. That is, when we are facing stress chronically. When the stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline come in disproportionately high doses and hang around in our bodies for too long, they can wreak havoc on almost all systems of the body.
Chronic stress can lead to many chronic diseases. Here are just a few:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease,
- Poor memory and concentration
What can we do about all this stress?
It certainly helps to get away from the things that stress you out (you may even be planning a move to Canada as we speak), but that is not always possible. Fortunately, when this happens, there are a lot of lifestyle changes you can make to manage stress.
Study after study has shown the stress busting benefits of exercise—almost any kind of exercise. And you don’t have to become a hard core athlete either. Adding just 30 minutes of walking or other light exercise every day can significantly reduce your baseline stress levels.
Do a News Fast
A news fast can be like a mini getaway. Shut off the TV, put down your iPad or listen to music instead of talk-radio. Give yourself permission to forget the stresses of news and politics for a day or even just for a few hours.
Get enough Sleep
With the end of daylight savings time, you just got an extra hour of sleep. We hope you used it. Sleep will restore and repair your body’s systems. Read more about the importance of sleep here.
Even as little as five minutes of deep breathing and meditation can lower stress levels. Research done at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School over the last 35 years has shown significant benefits of mindfulness training. These include a reduction in symptoms of many medical conditions including chronic pain and anxiety disorders.
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