How Stress affects us
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word stress? Just the word makes my shoulders tighten up!?!?!. Stress is one of those words that mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. At this point in society many people are desensitized to the word. Or have grown to accept that it is just a part of life. Furthermore, many of us do not feel like we are doing enough or can be successful unless we are busy and stressed.
I wish that I can tell you that our body is immune to stress and there is no need to address your stress. Unfortunately, the longer I have the honor of working with patients. The older I get, the more I have come to believe that addressing stress is imperative for true health and wellness.
The fact that we are still around since paleolithic times proves that our species was built for survival and adapts over time. We understand why Cavemen needed the built-in fight or flight feature to survive. Fast forward to today, when we are stressed with bills, family issues, running late or endless emails. Our body reacts with the same “fight” mode as if we were being chased by a woolly mammoth thousands of years ago.
What does this fight mode look like internally?
- Adrenaline and cortisol increase→
- Blood moves to the vital organs (brain, heart and muscles)→
- Heart rate and blood pressure goes up→
- Small airways in lungs open wide→
- The senses are heightened (eyesight, smell, hearing)→
- Blood sugar goes up to make more energy.
This distracts the body’s attention from digestion and reproduction (clearly the least of our problems if we are being attacked!!)
This “fight” feature is exactly what keeps us safe in times of acute trauma or attack. However, the problem arises when we are stuck in a constant fight mode.
Chronic high adrenaline can cause damage to our blood vessels and arteries→high blood pressure→heart attack and stroke.
Long term elevated cortisol →increase hunger→increase fat→inflammation.
There are many other negative responses to chronic stress but you get the idea.
So How can we heal from Stress?
If your sleep problems are being compounded by the effects of stress, sleep may come easier with the implementation of healthy stress management techniques before bed. Coping with stress takes many forms, and can involve emotional engagement or emotional disengagement.
Notably, one study found that strategies that reduce emotional avoidance and enhance emotional awareness are helpful for reducing the impact of stress on sleep onset latency, while strategies that increase avoidance, such as alcohol use, can lead to longer sleep delays.
Controlled breathing exercises can help keep your mind and body in shape, by helping to lower blood pressure, promote feelings of calm and relaxation, and relieve stress. This will help bring you out of the “Fight or Flight” and back to a parasympathetic state of mind. Using the breath as a means of increasing awareness, mindfulness, and putting yourself on the path to Zen.
Meditation teaches us to become more and more separate from our imaged thoughts. you know, those worst-case scenario thoughts. So it is the practice of focused concentration, bringing yourself back to the moment over and over again, actually addresses stress, whether positive or negative.” Meditation can also reduce the areas of anxiety, chronic pain, depression, heart disease, and high blood pressure
Be mindful of the nutritional choices that you make every day. Stress takes a serious toll on our bodies. We want to make sure that we are giving our body the tools that it needs. Having your body fueled properly will help you heal from the ware and tare that stress causes
Vitamin D is so important for our bodies! The hormone that it produces not only helps to regulate our sleep system. It also helps our body overall.
Healthy coping strategies that reduce emotional avoidance include meditation and simple breathing exercises, which can reduce stress and tension in the body, lower stress hormone levels, and help sleep come more easily.