WHEN YOU THINK OF BEING UNDER STRESS, WHAT COMES TO MIND? MAYBE IT’S BUMPER TO BUMPER TRAFFIC, AN APPROACHING DEADLINE, OR TRYING SOMETHING NEW THAT SCARES YOU.
Whatever it means to you, there is probably much more that is bringing stress into your life.
We live in a world where people are expected to work their lives away in a job that they may or may not like. Where kids are expected to be enrolled in countless time-consuming activities. Where time is so limited that it can be hard to find an hour in our day to cook a healthy meal, move our body, or simply meditate and recharge. Stress has become the norm in society, to the point that Nurturing Lives may not even realize how stressed Nurturing Lives really are. Though our conscious minds may be tricked into believing that we’re fine, our bodies certainly aren’t.
What is stress and how does it affect your body?
“Stress” can be defined as any situation which disturbs the equilibrium between a living organism and its environment. It is the activation of your fight or flight system – which is designed to keep you safe from harm. Stress is not inherently bad. You know this if you have ever been working under a deadline (and need that extra push like I do!) or have taken part in an intense workout.
When you are experiencing stress, your brain sends messages to your adrenal gland to release epinephrine (adrenaline) into your body. That adrenaline starts preparing your body so that it can react to threat or danger, causing symptoms such as:
- Increased heart rate
- Constricted blood vessels
- Fat being used for energy
- Dilated pupils for better vision
- Slowed bodily functions that are less important to survival
This improves oxygen flow to the heart, brain, and muscles and ensures your whole body is ready to take action in order to stay safe.
Cortisol does play a beneficial role in the fight or flight response. If you were faced with REAL danger (we’re talking an elk is chasing you kind of danger), all of these actions would help ensure that you stay safe. But in situations such as a stressful job, when there is no real danger, that chronic cortisol release ends up being quite damaging to your health and body.
The problems begin to occur when your body goes into what is called the “Resistance Phase.” This is when the body starts releasing cortisol, your stress hormone, which is responsible for many of the damaging effects of stress
How does stress negatively affect your body and health?
Chronic stress wreaks havoc in our bodies in many ways. It can weaken your immune system and make your body more susceptible to disease.
Stress can negatively affect the reproductive system. Females may experience anovulation (when a woman does not ovulate each month), amennorhea (when a woman loses her monthly cycle) and other menstrual irregularities such as inconsistent cycles or painful periods.
In males, stress can lead to decreased sperm count, poor motility (how easily the sperm can get around) and altered morphology (size and shape of sperm). These unfortunate hormonal shifts play a big role in the rising rates of infertility today.
Mental stress can also lead to weight gain and contributes to the obesity epidemic in our world today. Cortisol favors central fat deposition (AKA it increases belly fat!) Chronically high cortisol levels can interfere with the body’s ability to identify when it is hungry or full. This increases the appetite, as well as the amount of food that Nurturing Lives feel the need to consume.
Insomnia is a direct result of chronic elevated cortisol levels. In a healthy body, cortisol is high in the morning (to keep you awake!) and gets lower at night. You work hard during the day, and then you rest in the evening. Rinse and repeat. When your cortisol is too high in the evening, you may not get sleepy feeling and put off going to bed.
Being in a state of stress tells your liver make more blood sugar (glucose), which your body may not be able to keep up with. High blood sugar can lead to more of a risk of developing Type II Diabetes.
Your muscles may tense up, leading to chronic pain, especially in your neck and shoulders. This may lead to using pain medications.
If you are concerned that your cortisol levels may be high, it is important begin taking measures to de-stress on a daily basis. Some effective ways to do this include:
- Practice Meditation
- The HeadSpace app really helped to ease me into meditation. Now I can’t go a day without it!
- Light exercise, such as yoga or walking
- I love YogaGlo or Yoga with Adriene
- Connect with nature and get some sunshine–natural vitamin D can do wonders for stress and anxiety.
- Skip the sunscreen, which blocks vitamin D absorption, but keep it short to avoid sunburn! I recommend about 20 minutes, but know your skin and make it shorter if you burn easily.
- Laugh–as much as you can!
- Find a hobby and do it often.
- Spend time with people you love
- Learn to say “No” to invitations that won’t bring you joy, and stop feeling the need to come up with excuses about why.
- Turn off social media
- Comparing yourself to others can be a major source of stress. If you don’t want to get rid of it altogether, put time limits on it. I like to put my phone on airplane mode to avoid temptations!
IN GENERAL, TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY AND YOUR BODY WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU. EAT WELL, LOVE UNCONDITIONALLY, AND PLAY OFTEN. IDENTIFY WHAT IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO YOU IN YOUR LIFE AND DO THOSE THINGS EVERY DAY.