In this two-part blog series, I want to look at stress: why we stress, the effect it has on the body and what we can do about it.
You are possibly thinking we all have stress, it’s modern day life, so what’s the big deal. Right? Well yes, in small doses stress is good for us. It keeps us alive, gives us the impetus to get out of bed in the morning and rise to daily challenges. In the long term however, stress can have very negative effects on the body.
Stress is an evolutionary response designed to keep us alive. When alerted to danger the body releases adrenalin, the ‘flight or fight’ hormone, to activate the body to move very quickly away from the threat.
At the same time, the body releases cortisol, the stress hormone, that sends signals to the body that heightens awareness. The pupils will dilate, hearing decreases, breathing increases and there may be tunnel vision. Blood sugar floods the body to give energy to muscles as the body’s sole focus at this point is to stay alive. Cortisol also signals to the body to shut down other non-urgent functions. Digestion slows, the bladder relaxes, immune function slows, sexual functions close down.
The key to all of this is that the body cannot tell the difference between the stress of trying to stay alive or the stress of being late for your meeting. The physiological response is the same.
We have modern day stresses that are non-life threatening triggering this huge physiological response designed to keep us alive. We are not dissipating this stress by for example, running for our lives. In addition to this, we are very good at thinking stressful thoughts, which again triggers the same response. Stress is not just physical, it can be mental or emotional too.
Experiencing daily stress over a long period of time can impact every part of our lives and every system of the body leading to chronic health problems. Some of the issues associate with stress include:
- Increased likelihood of anxiety and depression, feelings of being overwhelmed, not coping, difficulty concentrating, headaches
- Adrenal fatigue and low energy levels
- Tension pain especially around the back, neck and shoulders, as well as generalised pain as long term cortisol release is pro-inflammatory
- Heart palpitations and high blood pressure
- Digestive issues such as IBS, heart burn, increased likelihood of making poor food choices, weight gain – excess cortisol sits as fat around the middle
- Increased risk of diabetes due to impaired insulin regulation
- Reproductive issues – menstrual problems, infertility, reduced libido
- Lowered immunity, increased susceptibility to illness, harder to recover from illness
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Skin – accelerates aging, acne
- Work and relationships – more likely to argue with loved ones, higher rates of absenteeism at work, more likely to turn to stimulants as an escape from stress
So yes, stress is a part of modern life and a little stress is good for us. However, long term, on-going stress is something we need to avoid. My next blog in this series will give practical tips on how to reduce your stress levels on a day-to-day basis.
Until then, if any of this has struck a chord and you would like to talk about how stress is affecting you, please book a 15-minute free chat today.