3 - Part Series with a focus on understanding your stress and building your own personal stress busting tool-kit with nutritional, physical and mental relaxation strategies.
Part 1 - Know thy Enemy
Is STRESS affecting your productivity, your relationships, your health, and holding you back from showing up in life at your best?
Do you suffer from digestive complaints that you just can’t seem to find the cause?
Are you struggling to maintain your weight?
Do you get run down easily and seem to always pick up the bugs that are going around? Do you once in a while get the feeling of suffocation or shortness of breath? Do you sometimes experience the inability to communicate or focus? Do you have to depend on coffee or other stimulants to get going in the morning? Do you have to rely on alcohol or a sleeping pill to wind down at night?
These are just a few out of the many physical symptoms caused by chronic stress.
And those are just short-term discomfort… in the long run, chronic stress can cause:
Allergies and intolerances
Decreased healing ability
Increased chances of cardiovascular disease
Muscular and joint pain
Emotional stress and associated problems…
Chronic stress is not something you can cure with a pill and call it a day. The best way to manage stress is to build a tool kit of holistic approaches and coping strategies that you can draw upon any time life throws you a curve ball (which is not infrequent!) – and this is what we will be focussing on over this series of articles.
The body’s natural state is a balanced and healthy one, also known as homeostasis. Put simply, when conditions and systems within the body move outside this balanced state it is perceived by the body as stress. The body actually has its own natural wisdom and healing ability. It knows exactly what is causing you stress (whether it be physical, nutritional, emotional, mental, environmental, hormonal) and also exactly what you need to bring you back into BALANCE. Amazing right?
However, if you are like many others, you are juggling many things – such as family, career, a hobby or two, friends, a gym class, keeping up with social media and other responsibilities. We are so bombarded with tasks and information that there are times when we feel overwhelmed, and we have so many things to deal with that we always feel we need 48 hours a day! We multitask, eat on the go… our fast-paced society simply won’t allow us to take breath and regroup! Before the day is over, we get so high-strung that we feel the stress monster has taken over our lives… we are just being pushed around by circumstances and no longer able to control our lives!
All the while, your body is working ever so hard to maintain balance in your body, despite the stress that your lifestyle is creating. If this stress attack on the body remains constant over time, that is becomes chronic, the body will begin to fail to keep up the balancing act, resulting imbalances (whether physical, nutritional, emotional) will increase the risk of developing the above-mentioned issues.
Know Thy Enemy
For any issues that I am dealing with, I always like to say, “know thy enemies.” I want to share some knowledge and facts on stress – what it is and how it affects us physiologically – so that we have a strong basis upon which we build our action steps.
Stress in and of itself is not a bad thing – the physiological changes allow us to adapt and respond to our environment, and it was particularly important for our ancestors when they were chased by saber-tooth tigers back in the caveman days. Physiologists define stress as how the body reacts to a stressor, real or imagined, a stimulus or situation that causes stress. Acute stressors affect an organism in the short term; chronic stressors over the longer term. Chronic stressors are the ones that we are more concerned about, because of the negative health impacts that it creates in our body.
Stress can be beneficial or destructive, depending on its nature and duration. It can help enhance mental and physical function, and can help us during athletic training or challenging work. However, persistent stress that is not resolved through proper coping or adaptation strategies can lead to anxiety or withdrawal behaviour – including depression. Whether a stressful situation proves to be harmful for someone depends on a few factors, including personal expectations and resources to cope with the stress.
In response to a stressful situation, our body secretes the stress hormone cortisol, which alters our physiological response. Cortisol helps us cope with acute stressful situation by increasing blood levels for energy mobilization, increasing appetite, converting fat to energy, suppressing reproductive system, and stimulating immune organs to cope with bodily injury.
However, if the level of cortisol is chronically elevated, it results in a number of negative and destructive effects, including: visceral fat deposits, memory impairment, insulin resistance, osteoporosis, mood swings, changes in sleeping habits, various digestive issues, neuromuscular complaints as well as immune system impairment – leading to autoimmune disease and increased metabolic disturbances.
Indicators of Chronic Stress
So how can you tell if you are under chronic stress? Note that some people have psychologically adapted to the various stressors in their lives and simply consider that state as the ‘norm’. Here are some signs to watch out for that indicate that you are possibly under chronic stress:
Digestive complaints such as sudden onset of cramps, diarrhoea and nausea
Some people, when under chronic stress, exhibit certain behaviours to cover up the burn-out feeling. These may include:
Using coffee or another stimulant first thing in the morning
Using alcohol or sleeping pills at night to wind down
Overworking or over-sleeping
And they may also show signs of depression or lack of motivation.
Re-education in response to Stress
The absence of symptoms does not mean the absence of stress and Muscle Testing is an excellent way of identifying whether the body – mind is coping with stresses effectively. Often our response to stress is habitual and we need to re-educate ourselves, about how to respond to stresses before or as they occur, rather than wait until we are in major breakdown and not coping with life.
We may ignore the symptoms of stress, because we think those symptoms are simply part of living in a busy, complex society, being productive, creative and pushing our physical and emotional resources to the limit. Ignored stresses pile up and so do the physical/emotional effects of stress. In order to best manage stress we need to commit to maintaining our health and well-being.
Kinesiology is one excellent tool to help manage stress and change easily.
Health Implications of Stress
Besides making us much less able to enjoy life and much more unpleasant to deal with, stress can cause a cascading series of physiological responses in our systems that lead to serious health issues in the long run:
Nutrient deficiencies due to decrease in nutrient absorption and increase in excretion of certain minerals
Increased chances of cardiovascular disease by increasing LDL, triglycerides, high blood pressure and aggregation of blood platelet
Reduced good gut flora, which can lower immunity and cause digestive issues
Reduced metabolism and increased fat storage, leading to weight gain
Decreased healing ability
Increased oxidative stress which increases premature ageing
Stress is an inevitable part of life – even minor tasks and small changes in the environment can be perceived by our body as stressful situations. The key is to have the tools to effectively manage the stress, so that your body is not in a constant state of heightened stress response, creating chronic stress that would bring about the negative health impacts that we just discussed.
When we talk about stress, most people think about mental and psychological stressors. However, we must also take into account physical stressors that we put on our body, resulting in stress responses. These stressors can include improper diet, lack of exercise, overtraining, and lack of rest and sleep. The key is to maintain your body’s balance physically, nutritionally and emotionally/mentally. In Parts 2 and 3 - 'STRESS - the great balancing act' we will focus on strategies and techniques that use nutrition, movement and mental relaxation to alleviate stress.