You’d think, given everyone seems to understand the negative impact of stress on our health, we would all be focused on living much calmer. However, on closer examination, there is more hype and myths than real information on stress. The fact that most people still believe stress is solely a psychological issue tells us, people have not got the message: stress is physical.
Stressors can be/are everywhere and stress is the body’s reaction to situations perceived as demanding a response outside of the norm.
Our body responds to stress by altering the secretions of certain hormones and chemicals; the majority of which originate from the adrenal glands. The adrenals are small but very important glands situated on top of the kidneys. When the body perceives a situation as demanding a response outside of the norm the adrenals release the hormones that control the “fight-or-flight” response. Cortisol, the ‘primary stress hormone’, inhibits functions that slow the “fight-or-flight” response; when we are running from an event or preparing to fight we don’t need to do things like digest food or do complex equations, so the body withdraws energy from non life saving functions. So to have all the energy we need to survive the perceived threat, the body reduces energy sent to the immune system, it suppresses the digestive tract, reproductive system and ‘growth processes’ in general because its aim is on survival. When needed, stress hormones can help save your life, but when we are exposed to their release for prolonged periods of time, they can have seriously damaging effects.
As you can imagine, a lowered immune system leave us more susceptible to illness and a suppressed digestive directly affects how the body digests food and makes nutrients available to the body; poor digestion can leave you constipated and feeling ill. Cortisol also increases the levels of glucose in your blood and enhances the brain’s use of glucose, which can leave you craving unhealthy, fatty carbohydrates.
For prolonged periods of time, this can manifest as hair loss or acne, and because of its relaxing effect on smooth muscles, adrenaline allows you to breathe more intensely.
Aldosterone and the sex hormones, to a lesser extent, are also affected by stress. Aldosterone stimulates water and salt re-absorption by the kidneys, which, in excess, can result in increased blood pressure and edema. Stress hormones can inhibit the release of sex hormones, which results in a reduction in sperm count, ovulation and sexual desire.
In women, prolonged exposure to stress hormones leads to a decrease in estrogen and progesterone production and an increase in cortisol levels. This combination often results in irregular, painful menstrual cycles and can negatively impact emotions and sex drive.
In men, stress causes a decrease in testosterone and an increase in cortisol, resulting in fatigue and a diminished sex drive.
Here’s our top four tips to live a calmer more enjoyable life:
- Don’t Ignore stress – you now know stress is physical and it is affecting your quality of life. Ignoring stress is not the answer and self medicating will not solve the problem, rather self medication can likely compound the effects of stress. The longer you delay dealing with the issue, the harder and more expensive it becomes to address,we know this from personal experience. Stress left unchecked is a bit like sailing round the world in a leaky boat; you may be able to cope with it at first, but if there’s a storm and things get rough, it’s more exhausting and dangerous. The longer you delay dealing with the issue the bigger the impact.
- Sleep – rest and make good sleep a priority. Studies show that more and more of us are sleep deprived and we do not recognise it. Let me ask you, are you getting a good solid eight hours sleep i.e., solid not disrupted regularly? I bet most of you reserve a ‘sleep in’ for the weekend (where possible) and you sleep less than eight hours during the week. Try going to bed a half an hour or even an hour earlier and feel the difference.
- Laugh – believe or not a good laugh is a great antidote for stress and in our the last article is laughter the best medicine we looked at the various health benefits from laughter which includes boosting your immune system. Laughing is something you can easily do every day; you tube is great for this; dancing babies, singing dogs you get the idea – check this one- there are some really funny moments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1Zjzi_k8YU
- Get Tested – like the doctor said, find out for sure; get tested and find out your levels so you know what you need to do rather than guess.