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Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Stress Will Really Hurt Me.

Well, it’s been a week now. For all the rugby aficionados, or those of us living in New Zealand; we can finally now breathe a collective sigh of relief. The All Blacks have finally been victorious at the Rugby World Cup 2011. And while the nation continues to ride the crest of this victory and bask in the warm afterglow of the fact that the champions were well desrving of the title, we can now look back and ask – “How did it affect us all form a health perspective?”.

 

The primary focus of the nation for the last six weeks has been all about the world cup and whether their beloved All Blacks could finally lift the Webb Ellis Trophy after 24 years of trying. The Rena oil spill, death of Gaddafi and EU debt crisis all seemed to have taken a back seat during this time.

Stress is a funny thing. Let’s be clear; it can be a bad thing, but it is not a scenario that is ALWAYS linked to something with a negative connotation. Stress activates our body’s sympathetic nervous system, inducing the so called ‘flight or fight’ response. This causes our adrenal glands to release a flood of hormones; the most important of which being adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline for starters, temporarily increases heart rate, elevates blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Whilst cortisol increases blood sugar, and most importantly makes sure that this gets delivered to the brain. Don’t get me wrong, this is all good stuff – in short bursts. Infact, I will go one step further and state that this is actually essential; it is critical for growth.

Anyone who watched the game or who was at Eden Park last sunday could easily testify to the above effects. We were all at the edge of our seats for most, if not all 80 minutes of the game. Afterall, who could forget those last 5 minutes, with a nation of 4 million willing every ball carry, every inch gained and every penalty denied. And whilst that not necesarily a bad thing on any given sunday; this heightened state was a culmination of a growing sense of anticipation and concern over the preceeding 6 weeks.

It is only when stress becomes chronic and uncontrolled that it becomes an issue.When chronic stress becomes part of life, serious physical and mental health consequences can develop. This is due in part to a somewhat paradoxical problem. Prolonged exposure to adrenaline and cortisol in the bloodstream can result in chronically elevated heart rates, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. This causes a number physiological issues which have been associated with a number of conditions such as an increased risk of heart attacks, cancer, stroke, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, anxiety, depression, asthma, psoriasis, eczema, sleep isues and memory impairment to name but a many.

In my opinion, in what can only be described as the quote of the tournament, an exhausted Richie McCaw’s first words after the final whistle was blown were – “mate, I’m absolutely shagged.” Words spoken with such perspicacity and without hubris and representative of the rest of the team. I suspect that he meant this both from a physical and an emotional perspective. This was after all, the driving force in in the lives of all 22 men over the pat 4 years.

He looked and sounded spent.

 

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So now that the tournament is over, the players and the nation for that matter can and should attend to themselves. For sure, whilst a healthy diet, regular exercise, meditation and reducing alcohol, drugs and cigarettes will all help. There is nothing quite like reducing the underlying stressor in one’s life to help fully control things. So with the Webb Ellis trophy safely locked away for another 4 years; maybe we can now get on and do this.

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