Stressful situations - good or bad - are all around us. We can't avoid them in this fast paced, modern world. But, we can reduce the amount of stress in our lives and adopt strategies to help our bodies deal with stress better - to turn that stress response into a relaxation response (more on that below!).
Stress and your Health
How an individual handles stress plays a major role in determining his/her level of health.
Stress triggers a cascade of hormones that over time accelerate aging, encourage inflammation and increase disease risk. Stress-Influenced Conditions include diabetes and obesity, digestive issues and ulcers, Hyperthyroidism and other hormonal imbalances, heart disease, sexual disfunction, hair loss and tooth and gum disease.
Stress is a big deal! Bigger than, I think, most people realize. It is critical to be able to identify the stressors in ours lives and put in place practical and effective strategies to manage it.
What is stress exactly?
Stress is any type of change that causes physical, emotional or psychological strain. Your body's response to anything that required attention or action is considered stress.
Believe it or not, stress can come from good or positive situations. For example winning a race or an election, or even planning a dinner or event - all are still is forms of stress. But, we generally associate stress with bad or negative situations like a demanding job or chronic disease, conflict, loss or change. That feeling of falling in love and what might that mean is stressful, but hardly the same as having surgery or losing your job.
Stress can trigger the body's response to a perceived danger or threat - this physical reaction is the "fight or flight" response or the stress response. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for this reaction. To prepare you for the threat, the brain relays warnings to the body - muscles tighten and the adrenal glands release stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. As a result, your heart pounds, blood pressure rises and digestion slows down as more of your blood is sent to your brain and muscles. Your breath quickens to get more oxygen into your blood; and your body releases sugars and fats into the blood for energy - giving your body a burst of energy and strength - preparing you to face the threat (fight) or run to safely (flight).
When this danger (real or perceived) is gone, your system should return to normal - the stress response should weaken and be replaced by the relaxation response (regulated by the parasympathetic nervous system). Once this state is achieved your body can "rest and digest". The parasympathetic nervous system replenishes the energy and glucose that were depleted by the sympathetic nervous system. It allows the internal organs to rest and recover. However, this recovery process (back to homeostasis) is slow and if we are unable to do it effectively or often enough - when there is one stressful event after another - this chronic stress can lead to physical and psychological damage.
If you think stress might be affecting you, there are a few things you can watch for:
Psychological and emotional signs such as changes in mood, irritability, anger and frustration, difficulty concentrating, worrying, anxiety, and trouble remembering
Physical signs such as low energy, aches & pains, headaches, digestive disturbances (eg. diarrhea, upset stomach), high blood pressure, racing heart, changes in weight, frequent colds or infections, and changes in the menstrual cycle and libido
Behavioral signs such as difficulty sleeping, poor self-care, not having time for the things you enjoy, or relying on drugs, alcohol or even food, to cope
Many of my clients have needed help reducing stress and/or identifying strategies and techniques that they can use to help them “cope” with stress – move them out of the stress response and into the relaxation response faster and more often.
How do you do that?
Replace negative coping skills like:
- Dependence on chemicals: legal and illicit drugs, alcohol, smoking
- Too much television/screens
- Emotional outbursts
- Excessive behaviour
- Feelings of helplessness
With one of more of these positive coping skills
- Employ techniques to calm the mind and promote parasympathetic tone and a positive mental attitude; practice mindfulness
- Eat a healthful diet
- Use supplemental herbs and nutrients to help improve weaknesses and support the adrenal glands, in particular.
- Breath work One Simple Change - Just Breathe! (restoredvitality.ca)
- Take a bath - use Epsom salts!
- Light a candle – just be still and calm the mind - send me an email to find out where you can pick up one of these amazing soy mediations candles!
Acupuncture, yoga, aromatherapy, massage are also great tools to add to your stress management toolbox.
Practice mindfulness at least 5-10 minutes a day. Pick a technique that you like and can continue to do, every day, to produce the relaxation response in the body - the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.
Although initially exercise puts stress on the body, it adapts and exercise becomes a wonderful way to improve mood and the ability to handle stressful situations. Extra points if you can do it outside in nature!
If you deal with excessive amounts of stress and your body does not cope with it well, it would be a good idea to avoid, or at least restrict, the intake of caffeine, alcohol and refined grains and sugars. Eat a wide range of fruits and vegetables and other whole foods – concentrating on foods rich in potassium. Plan your meals and make sure to eat in a relaxed state.
It is key to focus largely on supporting the adrenal glands, as long-term stress - the constant fluctuation of adrenal hormones - will fatigue and shrink this gland. Adrenal fatigue can result in chronic fatigue, insomnia, digestive imbalances, irritability, heart disease, PMS and Menopausal symptoms and depression.
While it is important to eat foods rich in the nutrients that the adrenal glands need (Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and B5, zinc and magnesium), I will often recommend to my clients supplementation of these and other key nutrients and herbals (like ashwagandha) to support and strengthen this gland until optimal function is reached.
Adrenal fatigue is very common in this day and age and stress is usually at the forefront. If you feel that this is an area that may need some attention and balance, I can help. Either book a free 15 minute discovery call to chat or sign up for my Start-up package and we can get to work on balancing those hormones!
The Bottom Line
Stress is all around us and many of us experience stressful situations throughout our daily lives - some positive and some negative. If we do not employ good stress management techniques, eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise this stress load could seriously affect our health and our quality of life.
Don't let stress take over your life!