How Stress is Affecting your Health (and what to do about it)
Posted Oct 23 2012 6:48pm
When you think of the word “stress”, what do you think of? Most of us think of that overwhelming feeling that envelopes us when we have deadlines to meet, or when we’re nervous or anxious about a current or upcoming situation. But do you ever think about how stress is actually affecting your mind and body on a day to day level? As it turns out, stress affects everything in our lives, rig
Although we often only think about stress when its effects are most obvious, most of us are being stressed almost continuously. On a global scale, virtually none of us are immune to such stressors as environmental pollution, technological pollution, parasites and diseases, food additives, preservatives, pesticides, GMOs and sugar. And for many, the list includes drugs, alcohol, tobacco and stimulants like coffee, tea and energy drinks. But even if we were to live in a completely toxin free world, many of us would still be carrying around the stress that comes from within us.
Being that we are all just made up of energy (molecules vibrating at different frequencies) we can often unknowingly be affected by the energy of others. This can be either positive or negative. If it is not acknowledged and released right away, negative energy (a negative stressor) is stored at a cellular level, within the connective tissue (fascia) of our bodies. The same can be said of coping mechanisms learned in abusive or stressful living environments. A build up of stress within our connective tissue can lead to a host of health problems later in life including impedance of physical movement and digestive issues. If you tend to be a naturally nervous or anxious person, some of the stress you carry in your body may not even be your own, and may have actually started in the first days of your life, in your mother’s womb. Very few of us have had such benign lives that we are not dealing with this type of inner stress on some level.
So how is all of this negative stress affecting our lives? A significant portion of stress’ effects on our bodies is directly related to our sympathetic nervous system. When our minds or bodies are negatively stressed our sympathetic nervous system kicks into its fight or flight mode. This means that it switches from running through our normal metabolic functions to the short cut, or emergency mode, of running off of our adrenal glands. As the body switches to this system it releases cortisol into the bloodstream causing your body to panic and start preparing for an emergency situation. These preparations include increasing your heart rate and blood pressure, impairing digestion, storing fat and spiking blood glucose levels. As you can imagine, the more time your body spends in this mode (i.e. the more stress you are exposed to), the more long term health issues can be caused by these responses. For instance, the inhibition of normal digestive processes can lead to malabsorption of vital proteins and nutrients which can lead to depression, mood swings and hormonal imbalances. Since the adrenals run primarily on blood glucose, cravings for sugary foods are increased while the body stores its fat reserves. This leads to weight gain or the inability to lose unwanted body fat (mainly in the belly region as the body tries to protect the organs). Long term adrenal stress can also lead to lowered immunity, impaired thyroid function, a short temper, depression and anxiety.
But if a lot of the stress we are exposed to is beyond our control, what can we do to prevent it’s detrimental effects on our mind and body? The first step begins with awareness. By truly beginning to listen to our bodies and understand how even the small aspects of your life are being affected by stress we can learn how to combat the causes and effects. It is about making unconscious habits, actions and feelings, conscious. Once you see the underlying issues for what they are you can better take the steps needed to eliminate them. Here are some ideas that may help you to lessen the effects of stress on your life:Eat healthier
Always eat “real”, whole foods, nothing processed or packaged. Make sure a high percentage of your diet consists of raw or lightly cooked vegetables, especially those in the dark green leafy category.
Substitute white, refined and gluten containing grains for whole alternative seeds and grains like quinoa, millet and amaranth.
Remove refined sugar from your diet entirely and even limit your natural sugar intake until you can give your adrenal glands a break and get your metabolism working optimally again.
Practice conscious breathing -Many of us don’t even realize how often we are only shallow breathing or holding our breath, especially in stressful situations. Try to concentrate on following your breath and watch as it slows and begins to inhibit your sympathetic nervous system from engaging even in the most tense arenas.
Take time to release old patterns -Once you start to become aware of old patterns and energy that you are holding in your body try to take steps to let them go. This may be in the form of therapy, taking a Yin yoga class or simply communicating with loved ones.
Take time to stop -Learn to slow your thought patterns down by taking time to stop and be present. This may mean taking time for meditation, doing yoga, walking in the forest or even watching an ant in the grass. For some people doing their favorite solo-sport that requires intense focus can also help to turn off their thinking mind and release stress.
Although you will never be able to eliminate all of the stress from your life, you can greatly reduce its affect on your overall health by changing the way you respond to it. Find what works for you and run with it. But remember, the most important step is awareness.