What is Stress and How Does It Affect Us?
I wanted to do an article on stress for some time now. Stress is something we all deal with today. I know what it feels like to be stressed…my belly tightens, my heart rate increases, I get jittery, my breathing becomes shallow, my face gets hot…sound familiar?
With the holidays quickly approaching us, I thought it might be a good time to start this series. Although the holidays are a special time, they can provide a source of stress for a lot of us. My prayer is that you will be able to utilize these next few articles and helpful tools to your ability in your healing journey.
This topic of stress is so important because it affects all of us and we all need tools on how to deal with the stressors in our lives. Without these tools, it can be difficult for our bodies and spirits to heal. Today, we will discuss what stress is and the impact it can have within us.
Stress/ the body’s reaction to any change that requires adjustment or response. Our body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses. Stress is a normal part of our life. We can experience stress from our environment, our body, and our thoughts. Even positive life changes, such as a promotion, a mortgage, or the birth of a child can produce stress. Too much exercise can also be a source of stress.
I believe we all know what stress is…am I right? I don’t believe I’ve ever had to explain in detail the definition of stress to someone …everyone today knows what it is and is experiencing some kind of stress in their lives. Stress comes in many different forms and everyone reacts differently when it occurs.
We live in a fast-paced society that most of us are always going here and there and usually in a hurry. With all of our technology gadgets we have today, such as; our phones, computers, tablets, online social media accounts, etc…all of these can cause stress overload to our already stressed nervous systems. Every time our phone signals we have a text or email, just that sound alone sends a signal to our nervous system to be on alert.
Everyone I see today in my office is dealing with stress of some kind. I know as a practitioner that helping my patients deal with their stress load is imperative in their healing process. Taking supplements, eating a healthy diet, exercising, sleeping properly, getting enough sunlight, detoxifying the body, I could keep going on here…all of these things are so very important in healing but if you do not help someone deal with their stress load effectively or give them the tools to deal with their stress, all of the important steps I just mentioned, will not have the full healing capacity affect that it would have, if our stress levels were under control.
We will always have some sort of stress in our lives. While we live on this earth, we really can not completely have a life where we have absolutely no stress. In fact, stress can be a good thing. It can motivate us to do what we need to do when needed.
One example is when we are in danger, our body starts responding to this situation by accelerating our pulse and heartrate, our breath gets faster, our pupils dilate, our muscles tense, and our brain uses more oxygen and increases activity, epinephrine and norepinephrine (2 excitatory chemical messengers in the brain) are secreted…these functions are called the fight or flight reaction or survival mode.
When this occurs, our digestive system freezes, and all the blood and circulation in our bodies goes to our extremities. This occurs so you can run for your life from that big bear in the woods chasing you!
Obviously and thankfully we are not running from a bear in the woods very often but did you know that even little sources of stress that we face on a regular basis can put us into fight or flight mode? Our bodies really do not know the difference between running from the bear in the woods affect compared to getting angry or stressed in traffic or getting constant alerts from our phones. All of these sources, whether big or small send a signal to our nervous system causing some sort of stress response. Most of us are in this fight or flight mode most of the time. Studies are showing that most of us are in this mode 85% of the time!
I want to mention here too, that we should never eat when we are feeling stressed. Like I just mentioned above, our blood and circulation get shunted away from our digestive system and internal organs and goes directly to our extremities to get ready to react during a stressful event. During this process of stress, our body’s first priority is to survive and digestion is not part of that equation. So, if you just heard bad news right before sitting down to eat, or if you are upset, or if you just had an argument with someone, it would be better for you to fast for that meal, rather than to eat the food in front of you. Eating food when our digestive system is shut down or in freeze mode can turn your food into poison rather than nourishment.
Being in a constant state of stress also raises the cortisol levels in our bodies. Cortisol is a steroid hormone made in the adrenal glands (our stress glands) and is nature’s built in alarm system within our bodies. Cortisol helps to fuel the body to get ready for that fight or flight reaction. With each stressful situation or trigger, more cortisol gets released. If our cortisol levels continue to be secreted and eventually become out of balance from constant stress, it can cause hormone imbalances, adrenal dysfunction, weight gain, anxiety, depression, exhaustion, elevated blood pressure, digestive distress, inflammation, insomnia, and impaired immune function.
Why is all of this important? It’s important because our bodies cannot heal properly when we are constantly stuck in survival or fight or flight mode. When we are stuck in this mode the majority of the time, our nervous system is always on alert and ready to react because it is always being triggered. This process causes our immune systems to take the back burner.
Sympathetic versus Parasympathetic Nervous System
Within our nervous system, there are two branches: the Sympathetic Nervous System (gas pedal, our accelerator, fight or flight/survival mode) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (rest and digest/healing/calming, our brake pedal).
Both of these branches are critical in our survival and for our humanly functions, but as you can see most people today are stuck in this Sympathetic dominance pattern, which is the fight or flight reaction, survival mode, too much stimulation and nervous energy.
Our Parasympathetic nervous system on the other hand, which is responsible for resting, digesting, healing, calming, our brake pedal, this is where most of us today need some more support or tools to get into this state more often. Healing, proper and healthy digestion, absorption, detoxification, and cellular regeneration occurs in this parasympathetic state.
While both of these 2 branches of our nervous system are important, there is always one that is more active. Having a healthy balance between these 2 branches is vital in our health and well-being.
Over the next several articles, I will be giving you some tools on how you can activate your Parasympathetic nervous system more often so you can live in a state of calm and healing.
These de-stress tools I will be sharing with you are:
How enjoying nature can be healing/ Forest Bathing
Meditation and Prayer
Writing Techniques /Journaling/Creative Space
Exercise/ Movement/ Yoga
Heart Math Device
Helpful food choices for stress/adrenal health
Emotional Release Techniques
Essential Oils/ Incense
I’m really looking forward to sharing these tools with you over the next few weeks and many of them are free!
Have a blessed weekend and remember to take a breath today just for you!