Stress - Part 2
Following on from the last post, I want to talk about excessive stress and how if affects your body. But first, you need to understand something called the 'stress response'.
The stress response is what happens in your body when you experience something stressful, either internally or from external sources. The stress response is a biological chain of events that occurs in a moment of time when you perceive, either consciously or unconsciously, that you are threatened in some way. The brain responds to the perception of threat by sending messages to, among other places, the adrenal glands, which results in the release of what are known as the stress hormones. This stress response is also known as the 'fight or flight' response. Don't be mistaken, this is a very useful bodily response, as it can save your life in certain situations, but when you are constantly living in this state, it can be your undoing.
There are a number of different hormones released when you are in 'fight or flight' mode, but I mainly want to talk about adrenaline.
Have you ever felt those "butterflies" in your stomach before you had to go on stage or give a presentation at work? Those "butterflies" you can feel are the result of the adrenaline that has been released because your body has perceived a stressful situation. So, it makes you ready to run away (not a good option if you have to give a presentation at work for your boss!), or it makes you ready to fight (give the presentation). So, in this case, when you have done your talk for the boss and it went well; he/she was responsive and gave you good feedback, you feel better emotionally, the butterflies will subside, and you feel good again. This is how it's supposed to work.
However, if you muck up the presentation, the boss sits there with a stone cold look on his/her face, and you feel like you've just jeapordised your job, more than likely, you'll continue to have those butterflies until the boss gets back to you with feedback. If this feedback doesn't come for a few weeks, your body will remain in fight or flight mode, and the stress hormones will stay elevated. This is how chronic stress works. The hormones that should subside relatively quickly continue to stay high and start to undermine your health.
Another way of understanding the role of these fight or flight hormones is this....Imagine back in the days of the caveman. He went out to hunt for dinner, only to be confronted by a sabre-tooth tiger. He has a choice to make....run back to his cave or stay and fight. His instincts probably told him to run away, so he did.....all the way back to his cave, where he pulled the rock across the doorway to keep the tiger out. Then, he sits down, exhausted, and finally goes to sleep for a few hours. When he wakes, he feels refreshed, his adrenaline has gone back to normal and he is ready to go and hunt for his dinner again, so off he goes. All is good.
The caveman scenario is different to your lifestyle in 2016 because your sabre-tooth tiger is always just behind you if you don't learn how to manage your stress levels. When you go to sleep at night, you know that in the morning you have to face the stressful situation at work again, or be in contact with the client that gives you a hard time, or deal with an unruly child or a grumpy spouse etc, etc......it seems there's always something in the background to keep you from truly relaxing. One of the biggest problems with chronic stress is that many people don't even realise that they are exhibiting signs of stress anymore because they have lived with it for so long.
One of the most common problems associated with stress is sleep disturbances. Many people I see in clinical practice are unable to get a solid nights sleep. They either can't get off to sleep, or they can't manage to stay asleep. Sleep is critically important, not only to your health, but also to bringing down your stress levels.
Chronic stress is the "great undoer" of even the healthiest of lifestyles. There are numerous studies that show the link between chronic stress and serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease, adrenal fatigue, weight gain leading to Type-2 Diabetes, and more.
So, the bottom line is this....
It is inevitable that you will have stress in your life....it simply comes with the territory of living! You need a certain amount of stress in order to live a healthy life (that's called eustress), but when you have too much and you don't have strategies in place to manage it, that's when it becomes a problem.
What To Do
Exercise - this helps to reduce stress
Eat nutritious foods to ensure a good intake of vitamins and minerals. Your body uses them more quickly when you're stressed
Rest when you need to
Go to bed early
Restrict your intake of caffeine and other stimulants. They increase the output of adrenaline
Take time out each day to have a quiet time of meditation/devotional time
Learn to say "no" to things/projects that you are physically incapable of completing
Declutter your environment
Do a "brain dump" of everything you can possibly think of that's on your mind - things to do; things that are stressing you; people you need to call etc, etc.
If it's in your power to do so, take a holiday or go away for the weekend and turn off your mobile phone, your laptop and any other device that stops the process of relaxation
If you have too much stress, you could be in trouble; however, if you learn to recognise the signs in your body and find effective ways to manage it, you can live a happy, healthy and productive life.
Enjoy your journey to health and wellness,