Stress and Our Health

By Anna Mitchell

The average age of equine sport participants is generally higher than other sports that require more extensive physical exertion and athleticism. When combined with the notion that many of these competitors are also involved in a demanding and competitive work environment, then health issues become a very real concern.

More and more research is showing that both acute and chronic stress can be directly related to our health. Hypertension, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and even cancer have been linked to stress. One way to combat these diseases is to regain control of our lives and learn to manage our stress more effectively.

Remember that it is not the event itself that causes us stress but rather how we respond to that situation. Fortunately, stress management is a learned skill, and numerous psychosocial studies have found that the inclusion of stress-reduction programs in treatment plans for AIDs and cancer patients significantly reduced the disease progression, resulting in a longer life expectancy and better quality of life. Other studies show benefits not only for the progression of the disease but may also reduce the likelihood of the developing specific medical conditions in the first place.

Now that we know the potential harm stress maybe inflicting on our unsuspecting bodies, how do we stop it from invading our lives? First, we need to understand the causes. Stress appears to be directly related to the amount of perceived predictability and controllability concerning events in our lives. Meaning that the more control we have of what goes on in our lives and when, the less stress we experience. You may recall me talking about the importance of taking control of your performance. By calling the shots, you reduce the uncertainty and the unpredictability, which enables you to adjust more easily to inevitable changes. Control gives you a sense of accountability, which in turn gives you a sense of achievement when an obstacle is overcome. More importantly, control reduces your level of stress, enabling you to achieve your peak performance. This is no different in life, except in life, the stakes are perhaps a little higher. It is crucial for your health that you gain control of your life and take a pro-active approach to reducing your everyday levels of stress. Are you experiencing chronic stress at work or at home?

Take the time to assess your current status. Do you often feel up tight, angry, anxious, or depressed? Are these feelings associated with a particular environment such as work, school, competitions, or home? How is this stress manifesting itself through your personality, thoughts and behaviors? How can you gain control of the situation to increase the predictability of the circumstances and consequently lower your stress levels?

Stress cannot always be avoided because we live in a demanding and often unpredictable world but you can develop effective skills to help you cope with these stressful life events. There are many, many resources available either online or in your communities to help you learn better coping skills, and/or stress reduction techniques. Remember my motto; hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Please contact me if you would like to learn more about this topic or if you need help finding appropriate resources.

Learn how to get motivated for your equine performance