The Stress Mess: How it Really Affects You
We all have some level of stress, right? It may be temporary (acute), or long-term (chronic).
Acute stress is usually not as problematic, provided that it is infrequent. It is your body’s natural reaction to circumstances, and can even be life-saving. Think about narrowly escaping a car accident. You feel immediate physical stress, but when the “threat,” or the stressor is gone, the reaction eventually subsides, and all is well.
It's the chronic stress that's a major problem. You see, your body has specific stress reactions. If these stress reactions are triggered repeatedly, like every day or many times a day, that can significantly damage your health.
Stress, including the stress hormones that the body produces, can have a huge impact on your health. Cortisol, the main stress hormone, is secreted, or released from the adrenal glands with each occurrence. What you may not have known is that Cortisol contributes to weight gain, mainly around the middle - this is known as visceral fat (belly fat). Even physical stressors like exercising for too long and too harshly, can cause excess Cortisol release! (and I don't think anyone's plan is to work out and gain weight!)
Let's dive more into the "stress mess."
Mess #1 - Increased risk of heart disease and diabetes
Why save one of the best for last? Anything that increases the risk for Heart Disease and Diabetes (both serious, chronic conditions) needs to be discussed.
Stress increases the risk for these conditions by promoting chronic inflammation, affecting the "thickness" of your blood, known as blood viscosity - as well as how well your cells respond to insulin. When your cells respond poorly to insulin, this opens the door to insulin resistance, where glucose cannot enter into the cells and begins to flood the bloodstream. This, in turn, will eventually lead to Diabetes. See why this is a mess?!
Mess #2 - "Leaky Gut"
Now this is ONE HOT MESS! One of the first physiological processes that is halted when you encounter stress is digestion. Everything moves more slowly, often leading to constipation and poor elimination. Continued stress can contribute to Leaky Gut Syndrome, otherwise known as "intestinal permeability." These "leaks" can then allow partially digested food, bacteria and other toxins or pathogens to be absorbed into your body. No bueno.
The stress hormone Cortisol can also open up tiny holes by loosening the grip your digestive cells have to each other.
Picture this: Have you ever played "Red Rover?" It's where a row of children hold hands while one runs at them to try to break through. Think of those hands as the junctions between cells. When they get loose, they allow things to get in that should be passing right though. Remember, Cortisol (produced in excess in chronic stress) is a major player!
Mess #3 - Immunity
Did you notice that you get sick more often when you're stressed? Maybe you get colds, cold sores, or even the flu more frequently when you are stressed? Just a few days of being off your typical schedule or dealing with an unexpected situation can cause you to feel run down, foggy in the head, and simply "out of it."
That's because stress hormones affect the chemical messengers (cytokines) secreted by immune cells and consequently, they are less able to do their jobs effectively.
This is one for the books: Did you know that 80% of your immune cells live in your gut? Hmm. This means that treating your digestive system like royalty is so vital. The food you eat is fueling your body one way or the other - either towards health and longevity OR towards disease. You can see how working with a knowledgeable practitioner who can help you clean and repair your gut is paramount to staying healthy and well, all year round.
Mess #4 - Sleep Disruption
Stress and sleep go hand-in-hand, wouldn’t you agree? It’s often difficult to sleep when you have very important (and stressful) things on your mind.
And when you don't get enough sleep, it affects your energy level, memory, ability to think, mood, and even your weight!
More and more research is showing just how important sleep is for your health. A lack of and poor quality sleep (and too much stress) aren't doing you any favors.
It's important to cultivate healthy sleep habits too. Sometimes focusing on this area alone can bring significant results with just a few simple steps.
- Unplugging from technology (including the TV) 30 minutes to an hour before bed is extremely helpful in calming the nervous system and the brain.
- Set a bedtime and try to stick to it. Your body likes routines and sticking to a schedule will ease your transition from work to rest.
- Take an herbal formula with nervine herbs that support, soothe and strengthen the nervous system. Herbal supplements are commonly found in capsule or liquid extract form. Relaxing herbal teas are great! However, tea is a very weak herbal infusion. They are excellent choices for maintenance or daily routines, children and weak individuals; but they will not provide a therapeutic value equal to a high quality herbal supplement.
- Support your melatonin levels by sleeping in a dark room, and with a simple melatonin supplement. Most people will find that around 3 mg is an appropriate dose. Melatonin is not just good for sleep, but is a powerful antioxidant with a very low toxicity level, so it's a win-win in my book!
- Listen to a guided meditation recording with ear buds. I recommend not sleeping with your cell phone or device in the bedroom, to reduce output of radiation, so try to get up and remove it from the room when you know you are finishing your meditation or at least put it in Airplane Mode (We even shut the wifi off at night).
Reducing stressors in your life is an obvious first step.
● Put less pressure on yourself?
● Ask for help?
● Say "no?"
● Delegate tasks to someone else?
● Become more decisive about something you may have been pondering?
No matter how hard you try, you won’t eliminate stress altogether. So, here are a few things you can try to help reduce its effect on you:
● Deep breathing
● Walk in nature
● Unplug (read a book, take a bath)
● Exercise (yoga, tai chi, etc.)
● Connect with loved ones and like-minded friends
Stress is a huge and often underappreciated factor in our health. It can impact your physical body much more than you might realize. It has been shown to increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes, affect your immune system, digestion, and sleep.
There are things you can do to both reduce stressors and also to improve your response to them. You can ditch that stress mess!
Recipe: Chamomile Peach Tea
1 cup steeped chamomile tea (cooled for a cold drink)
1 peach, diced (organic if possible)
Place both ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Add ice if desired. Serve & enjoy!
Note: You can use fresh or frozen peaches.