The impact of the stress you don't even notice!
Stress; it can be difficult to define and looks different from person to person, but at some point in our lives it affects all of us, and perhaps more than we realise. Let’s take a look at stress, how it impacts us and of greater importance, what we can do to better manage and support our body’s resilience to it.
Good stress and bad stress?
The human body is designed to switch into an adrenaline, cortisol fueled state when needed, for example when we are in danger, and it’s very effective too. It allows us to run faster and make decisions quickly for example. The body halts anything ‘non-essential’ such as bowel movements and digesting food. Once we’re out of the perceived danger, we return to our original state and our hormones balance out gradually. But what if we’re constantly in a stressed state?
In the modern day, we face a more damaging kind of stress; Low level, chronic stress.
This may not sound as bad but when we remain in this state, and continually rely on cortisol and adrenaline to function, we not only impact how our body operates day to day, but also, longer term this puts too much pressure on the adrenal glands. Ultimately this can mean we ‘crash’ as the body can no longer function sufficiently. This can take years, decades even, but eventually the body will exhaust itself.
But I’m not stressed!
I’ve heard this so many times in clinic! People associate the word stress with having to present at an important business meeting, hit a deadline, getting divorced, the loss of a loved one or moving house. Of course all of these things can and do significantly raise stress levels, but there are other things that cause an increase in cortisol. For example, worrying. Someone who re-runs their entire day once in bed, over analysing and worrying about various scenarios. Or perhaps cooking a meal, dealing with children and messages on your phone at the same time, driving a car at rush hour even. Just general life. The stress that comes from these things, albeit at a much lower level, can be quite constant, and it’s this that causes the most damage. It’s this kind of stress that we need to balance.
The impact of low-grade, chronic stress
Chronic stress can affect everything! Yes, literally everything in your body. From your hormones and creating imbalances, to inflammation and impaired gut function to name a few. It also lowers hydrochloric acid (stomach acid) which not only puts you at greater risk of parasites and bacteria becoming resident in your gut, it also negatively impacts how you assimilate your vitamins and minerals from your food. For example, hydrochloric acid plays a crucial role in separating the active form of B12 from the protein to which it is attached in food. The cascading effect of longer term nutrient deficiencies can be very serious, so you can see now how chronic stress can pretty much be at the root of any disease you can think of.
So what can we do?
There are many lifestyle, dietary and supplemental changes we can make to support the body and mind. These are my top 5 suggestions…
Be in nature
This is a very important one, which is why it’s top of the list. Never underestimate the importance of getting outside and amongst nature and how this can positively impact our mental and physical health.
Studies show that being in nature supports our health in numerous ways, from reducing anxiety and depression, to lowering blood pressure and improving memory and learning. When we’re busy, it’s tempting to stay at our desks and just get on with work. But just a 10 minute walk outside can make a world of difference, not only for our health but also our productivity.
Move your body
A moderate amount of exercise is a very effective way of reducing and managing stress. Studies show benefits such as a reduction in blood pressure, cortisol levels and an improved self reported mood, indicating that exercise protects against the negative emotional consequences of stress in healthy individuals. But don’t overdo it, over exercising too often increases stress levels!
Adapt with Adaptogens
You may or may not have heard this ‘buzz’ word in the health industry before, but adaptogens have been used with success for centuries. A small group of botanicals, adaptogens are so called because they actually help your body adapt and increase resistance to stress.
Whether the perceived stress is physical or mental, our bodies go through what’s called general adaptation syndrome (GAS). GAS is a three-stage response: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. Adaptogens help us stay in the resistance phase longer, via a stimulating effect that holds off the exhaustion. Instead of crashing in the midst of a stressful moment, task, or event, we attain equilibrium and can cope better.
Want to utilise these wonderful herbs? Look for Maca, lions mane, ginseng, shilajit and my personal favourite, the Ayurvedic herb, Ashwagandha root. For centuries, this powerful plant has been used to support people with life’s stressors. It’s also great for an energy boost!
Many of us stay up far too late, snatching that last bit of time for ourselves after a busy day with young children or a day at work. Scrolling through our phones on social media, watching TV or even continuing to work. But the importance of sufficient sleep cannot be underestimated. A time when our bodies can repair, regenerate and consolidate memories, research demonstrates that lack of sleep renders you more emotionally reactive, more impulsive, and more sensitive to negative stimuli.
The one-third of our lives that we spend sleeping, far from being “unproductive,” plays a direct role in how energetic, productive and calm we are in the other two-thirds of our lives.
Clinical studies supporting meditation are very compelling and when we realise that much of our stress comes from either ‘being’ in the future or in the past, an activity that keeps us in the present moment is beneficial.
Studies to date suggest that meditation increases resilience in the mind and body in stressful situations. So for example, practicing meditation lessons the inflammatory response in people exposed to psychological stressors, particularly for long-term meditators. According to neuroscience research, mindfulness practices dampen activity in our amygdala and increase the connections between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Both of these parts of the brain help us to be less reactive to stressors and to recover better from stress when we experience it.
Try starting with just 10 minutes in the day. Either upon waking, when you’re home for the evening or even on your commute on the train!
Managing stress - an important health goal
When we understand the impact of stress on everything from how we absorb nutrients to the balance of our hormones and how efficiently our immune system operates, we begin to realise just how important it is to manage it. Try implementing some of the above suggestions and observe the difference it makes to you.
And perhaps make reducing your stress levels and supporting your body’s resilience to it, a real focus for 2020 (and beyond).
Let us know if you’ve used the above methods and which others you recommend?
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