Many of us experience stress, some of us more than others. Stress is a natural reaction to everyday life experiences. The reaction to stress can be physical and/or mental. Stress can be triggered from everyday responsibilities at home, work, school, etc. Stress can also be triggered from serious life events such as the death of a loved one or an illness. Not all stress is bad. Stressful situations that last for short periods of time can help teach us how to cope with more serious situations. Short term stress has also been shown to enhance immune function. Repeated chronic stress is potentially harmful to our health.
Stress causes our bodies to release stress hormones, which include adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. These hormones cause physiological changes that trigger what is known as the stress response, or the “fight or flight” response. As mentioned above, when the stress response is triggered in an acute situation, for example sitting in traffic, our bodies can cope and rebalance well. Stress begins to take a toll on your health when you are dealing with stress over time, which becomes chronic stress. Chronic stress can be caused by one stressful event such as the death of a loved one or small stressors over a continued period, such as deadlines at work, home life, the holidays, financial difficulties, etc. Everyone’s ability to cope and deal with stress is different. Experiencing a continuous state of “fight or flight” eventually will take a toll on your body.
The stress response is controlled by the Central Nervous System. Your brain, specifically the hypothalamus, triggers your adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol. The two hormones cause a reaction in the body, which includes increased heart rate, a rise in blood pressure and alertness. These changes are helpful in emergency situations. When the stressor is gone the hypothalamus should then tell the body to relax back to its normal state. If the stressor never goes away the stress response will continue. This is when we see health issues arise.
Chronic stress can lead to mental or behavioral issues such as over eating, under eating, anxiety, depression, social withdrawal and substance abuse. Physical health issues can also arise, such as problems with breathing like asthma, increase risk of heart attack and stroke and muscle tension. If you are in a constant state of “fight or flight” your body can not be in a state of “rest and digest”. This may lead to digestive issues. Constant stress can cause hormonal imbalances, which may lead to reproductive issues in both men and women. Stress can suppress your immune system, which can lead to increased infections. Chronic stress can also cause chronic inflammation and chronic inflammation is the root of most disease. As you can see stress wreaks havoc on the body.
If you are suffering from chronic stress, consider quitting your stressful job or moving to a tropical island. All joking aside because that is not the reality for most us, here are tips a few tips to reduce stress:
- Focus on what is in your control and set limits. Determine what tasks you absolutely need to tackle and what tasks can be accomplished at another time. Ask for assistance when needed and don’t be afraid to say “no”. Stay positive and reframe your attitude around stress.
- Focus on eating a nutrient dense whole food diet. Eating real whole foods can help restore balance in the body. Focus on eating quality protein, healthy fats and fruits and vegetables. Avoid added sugars, caffeine and alcohol, which add additional stress to the body.
- Practice Relaxation techniques. This can be meditation, deep breathing or enjoying nature. What is important is that you find what works for you and allows you to relax. Deep breathing has been shown to help reset the stress response.
- Focus on getting quality sleep. Aim for between 7 to 8 hours per night. We all require different amounts, but if you are chronically stressed sleep should be a priority. Lack of sleep can increase stress hormones.
- Consider supplementation to help reduce stress. Vitamin C, B vitamins and magnesium could be helpful. Supplementation will vary by individual and by the symptoms you are experiencing but can be very helpful.
Chronic stress should be taken seriously, it can cause many health issues, including serious health problems. If you would like more information on how to reduce stress or advice on what supplements might be right for you, please ask me for help. Take time a few extra minutes during the holidays for yourself and relax to avoid any additional stress. Happy Holidays!
Jamey Floreck, NTP, CPT
Legal Disclaimer: The information presented in this article is intended for educational purposes only, and it has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information isn’t intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any conditions or disease, nor is it medical advice. One should always consult a qualified medical professional before engaging in any dietary and/or lifestyle changes.
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