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February 09, 2012  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Keeping our eyes on the prize

An industry veteran discusses the negative repercussions of high levels of stress and offers tips on how to stay on track to good physical and mental health. Doing so will help one stay focused on “the prize” — the next generation of students.

by Phillip A. Haldaman

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I attended a Michigan Association for Pupil Transportation conference a couple of years ago where the theme of the event was "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize."

For three event-filled days, our focus was diverted from the distractions of dire budget projections (which still haven't changed much) and the overall busyness of our daily routines, and on to the key themes of why we do what we do in the pupil transportation business: ensuring that the safe transportation of "the prize" - the next generation - is maintained to the highest of industry standards. It was an appropriate title, especially given our trying times, when days are punctuated with challenge, change and ... stress.

But stress is not all bad. In fact, stress can be beneficial, as it releases a key "fight or flight" hormone in our bodies called cortisol.

Cortisol: the good and bad
Cortisol, like the other hormones in our bodies, is an important and necessary ingredient in our survival. Not only does it help regulate our blood pressure, it also helps metabolize glucose, kick starts our immune system and even helps keep swelling of muscle tissues in check after a physical injury. In short, it would be pretty hard for us to function without it.

Unfortunately, in the high-stress lives we lead, filled with "type-A-squared," multi-tasked-to-the-max people, keeping our stress levels in check is not so easy. In fact, the harder and faster we live, the less our bodies have a chance (or even the ability) to lower - much less regulate - elevated cortisol levels to a normal range. Unchecked, it can lead to what experts term "Chronic Stress Syndrome."

Award-winning family, marriage and corporate counselor Elizabeth Scott, M.S., has devoted her professional life to this subject, conducting individual therapy and compassionate counseling for couples. She has also facilitated scores of stress management workshops with a variety of individuals and groups. According to Scott, elevated levels of cortisol in our bloodstream for prolonged periods of time can do a lot of damage. Her research reveals some alarming findings: Higher heart rate and blood pressure, higher LDL ("bad") cholesterol, a decrease in bone mass and muscle tissue, reduced immune function and increased abdominal fat (which in itself can lead to all kinds of other health problems) may result from cortisol saturation.

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