Reducing and managing stress in your everyday life is so important for overall health. Many of us become victims of our stress. It seems to completely overwhelm us and we don’t know how to cope. The cause of stress varies from person to person. For some it is financial worries and others it is family worries. Stress is different for everyone and we all deal with it in a different way. The one aspect of stress that is true for all of us is that it has a negative effect on our health.
What physically happens in the body when you’re stressed?
When a stressful situation occurs, the body sets off an alarm and sends a signal to your brain. This signal reaches an area of brain called the amygdala. The amygdala then alerts another region of the brain called the hypothalamus, which is responsible for hormone production. The nervous system immediately releases adrenaline to help the body deal with the stress. While the adrenaline is being released, the hypothalamus is preparing to release cortisol. The cortisol and adrenaline are then released into the bloodstream and travel through the body. The cortisol increases your blood sugar and the adrenaline makes your heart race. Your body is now ready for fight or flight. Back in the cavemen days, a caveman would be picking berries when a wild animal spotted him. He then had the ‘fight or flight’ instinct kick in. He either fought or ran. If he ran and successfully escaped, the stress hormone production stops. That is the end of the stress. Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple in our modern lifestyle. When we are in a stressful situation at home or at work, we don’t fight or run. We sit through the stress. The stress of a situation can last for days, months or even years. This means that the stress hormone production never stops. Our body continues to pump out cortisol, which is the hormone that has major health effects if produced in excess.
Effects of Elevated Cortisol
- Diabetes: When under stress, cortisol provides the body with glucose to fight off the stress. Elevated cortisol levels over long periods of time lead to elevated glucose levels, leading to increased blood sugar and Diabetes.
- Weight gain/obesity: Cortisol is known to relocate fat cells to visceral fat. Visceral fat lies under the muscle, surrounding the organs and is especially dangerous. Cortisol also causes the body to crave high-calorie foods resulting in weight gain.
- Cardiovascular disease: Cortisol contracts blood vessels, which causes an increase in blood pressure.
- Fertility problems:Excess cortisol may result in less production of sex hormones, causing infertility.
- Gastrointestinal problems: Excess cortisol impairs digestion and absorption of nutrients. This results in inflammation of the digestive system. Many patients with IBS report improvement in their symptoms when stress is managed.
Stress Management Techniques
There are many effective techniques that can be used to manage stress. Meditation is one tool that can be extremely powerful. Meditation aims to focus and relax the mind, allowing stress to float out of our thoughts. To start, you may find it helpful to listen to a guided meditation video. Aim to meditate for 5 minutes per day and build up to longer duration. Meditation is extremely satisfying and healthy. Exercise is another great technique for stress management. Walking and yoga are two great options for stress relieving exercise. The stress relieving benefit of exercise is widely accepted. Proper nutrition is also essential to stress management. Eating lots of leafy greens provides the body with the nutrients it needs to fight stress. When we are stressed, the body becomes depleted of B vitamins and magnesium. It may be beneficial to supplement these nutrients. Lastly, sleep is crucial for stress management. Stress can physically exhaust you and without good quality sleep, you will feel the effects of stress much more.
It is important not to wait until stress has a negative impact on your health, relationships or quality of life. Start practicing a range of stress management techniques today!
Until next time,
The Apollo Team