Stress & Health – How Bad Can It Really Be? 3 Simple Tips
As we head in to the lead up to Christmas we see the busiest time of year for most of us, professionaly and personally.
I often get asked just how bad can stress really be. I have many patients who present with chronic long term inflammatory, skin, hormone or autoimmune issues, and I put to them, after a lifestyle analysis, that stress really is a major contributing factor in health.
This is incredibly hard for most people to accept. In this day and age, with our 9-5 daily grind, family, children, relationship commitments, personal hobbies and activities, physical exercise goals plus social & leisure events when we do finally get a piece of time to do what we like.
The fact is we are all so accustomed to this way of life as being normal, that we do not even realise we are actually constantly running in a state of some form of stress.
Let’s look at some of the body systems stress actually affects:
Central Nervous and Endocrine Systems – Your central nervous system (CNS) triggers a “fight or flight” response when under stress. In the brain, the hypothalamus tells your adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol has a direct inflammatory affect on the body. Stress also affects our hormonal system, including glucocorticoids, catecholamines, growth hormone and prolactin. It also down regulates thyroid function increasing the risk of thyroid diseases such as Hyperthyoidism.
Respiratory and Cardiovascular Systems – Stress hormones affect your respiratory and cardiovascular systems. During the stress response, you breathe faster in an effort to distribute oxygen and blood quickly to your body core. Your heart also pumps faster. Stress hormones cause your blood vessels to constrict and raise your blood pressure. Frequent or chronic stress makes your heart work too hard for too long, raising your risk of hypertension and problems with your blood vessels and heart. You’re at higher risk of having a stroke or heart attack.
Digestive System – Under stress, your liver produces extra blood sugar (glucose) to give you a boost of energy. Unused blood sugar is reabsorbed by the body. This also contributes to weight gain. If you’re under chronic stress, you may be at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The rush of hormones, rapid breathing, and increased heart rate can upset your digestive system causing symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation.
Immune System – Stress stimulates the immune system. Over time, cortisol compromises your immune system, inhibiting histamine secretion and inflammatory response to foreign invaders leaving people under chronic stress vulnerable to pathogens and viral illnesses.
Stress increases aging along with inflammation, neither of which is desirable.
Three simple things you can do today to help lower stress responses in the body:
- Meditation – Now were not all into crossing our legs and chanting oms.. that’s totally fine, just slowing down and doing something mindfully (slow and attentive to the task) is beneficial, and this can be in many forms, some you may not even realise. The following can be forms of meditation, slowing the body and mind:
- Walking, I am a big advocate of walking, it can be a simple form of moving meditation, go for a walk, slow down, notice the trees the sky the ground, breathe and enjoy.
- Doing a task you enjoy, this could be anything where you slow down and focus on something you enjoy doing, it could be a cross word, it could be reading, listening to music (maybe not heavy metal) but hey it could work for you??
- Stretching, slow down and slowly stretch.
- Laying, just laying down, how easy is that? We underestimate the benefits of a small nap.
- Deep breathing – slow, deep, even breaths that fill up our belly with air. Just doing this alone whenever you can helps your nervous system to slow down.
- Mindfull thoughts – catching thoughts in the moment, recognising if they need to be adjusted and being kind to ourselselves.
Nutrients & herbs – there are a number of things that contribute to either acting as great buffer to stress responses and also increasing them. If you suffer from a health concern or would like some information on what nutrients can aid in our daily stressful lifestyles, book in a consultation or contact me for any further questions.
National Institute of Heath (2016). Breath-based meditation: A mechanism to restore the physiological and cognitive reserves for optimal human performance. Accessed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4832119/
National Institute of Heath (2016). Reduced stress and inflammatory responsiveness in experienced meditators compared to a matched healthy control group. Accessed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26970711
National Institute of Heath (2011) Stress and hormones. Accessed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3079864/
National Institute of Heath (2016). The impact of acute stress on hormones and cytokines, and how their recovery is affected by music-evoked positive mood. Accessed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27020850