We all have some level of stress, right? I mean, that’s part of everyday normal life.
Acute stress (that’s temporary stress) usually won’t mess with your health too much. It is your body’s natural reaction to circumstances, and can even be life-saving. You jump out of the way of a bus. You find superhero strength to lift an overturned car so you can save a small child. You shake with excitement at a hockey game, while watching your kid ski race, see a scary movie or beat your archrival at bridge.
You soar and then when the “threat” or “thrill” is gone, the reaction subsides, and all is well. It’s been like this throughout history – and your body was built to handle stress. It gives you the drive to run away from that sabre tooth tiger, or bear, or creepy person on the street. You live. You breathe. Crisis averted. Your hormones normalize and your body has time to rest, repair and regenerate.
Chronic stress is the problem. You see, your body has specific stress reactions. If these stress reactions are triggered multiple times a day, every day, every week, every month, every year! Well, that can mess with your health.
Some sources of chronic stress include:
Emotional stressors (work, emails, deadlines, relationships, family, finances, traffic)
Physical stressors (over exercising, under exercising, obesity, injuries that have not healed, blue lights, electronic screens, electromagnetic frequencies)
Food stressors (too much sugar or refined carbohydrates in your diet, processed foods, allergies, sensitivities, the wrong diet for your constitution)
Environmental stressors (chemicals, synthetic hormones, toxins, bacteria)
Lifestyle stressors (lack of sleep, no down time, no sense of community/connection, no exposure to daylight)
This list is kinda scary isn’t it. It’s a bit of a description for everyday life. So what does this mean? How does it impact your health?
Well, it puts your body into an inflammatory state. And all doctors agree that chronic inflammation is the number one predictor for disease.
Let's dive into the "stress mess."
Mess #1 - Increased risk of heart disease and diabetes
Why save the best for last? Anything that increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes (both serious, chronic conditions) needs to be discussed. Stress increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes by promoting chronic inflammation, affecting your blood "thickness," as well as how well your cells respond to insulin.
Mess #2 - Immunity
Put your hands up if you get sick more often when you're stressed!! Colds? Cold sores? Flu? Weird rashes? This is common. Your stress hormones affect cytokines (chemical messengers secreted by immune cells). And as a result, they are less able to effectively do their jobs.
True story. We sold our house four years ago (for a great price), but we had only 3.5 weeks to find a rental, organize a move and take care of my kids during JUNE, the busiest school/recital month of the year. Well, I broke out in a full body rash the day after we signed the papers when I realized what was in store for the weeks ahead. This rash was EVERYWHERE. On my chest, stomach, legs, in my nose and places I can't describe in this newsletter.
Stress was at the root of this crazy immune response.
Mess #3 - "Leaky Gut"
Leaky gut is all the rage right now on the Internet. Gut health. Stress can contribute to leaky gut, otherwise known as "intestinal permeability." These "leaks" can then allow partially digested food, bacteria or other things to be absorbed into your body. This contributes to stress and an immune response.
Imagine you have nothing but a pair of sheer nylons separating the outside world from the inside world in your intestinal tract. The stress hormone cortisol can open up tiny holes in that nylon by loosening the grip your digestive cells have to each other. Now you have a pair of fish net nylons that is supposed to protect your insides. These holes are where undigested food, bacteria and other foreign objects can enter your body.
Here’s another example. Have you ever played "Red Rover?" It's where a row of children hold hands while one runs at them to try to break through. Think of those little hands as the glue (or junctions) between the epiltheal cells that line your intestinal tract. When they get loose, they allow entry to objects that should be passing right though.
Cortisol (a hormone produced in excess in chronic stress) is the MVP in Red Rover. And when it loosens the grip, the good and the bad come through. This infiltration of foreign matter and undigested food triggers an immune and stress response.
Mess #4 - Sleep Disruption
It’s difficult to sleep when you have very important (and stressful) things on your mind.
I don’t know about you, but when I don’t get enough sleep, I’m crabby. My husband agrees (damn him). And I'm on the floor the next day – NO. ENERGY. My memory goes into the vortex – I forget words, names. And I don’t think clearly ... I'm slow on the response and need time to think things through.
Sleep is SOOO important to your health. Research shows adults need 7 – 10 hours of sleep daily. Any less than that puts us into an inflammatory state. And catching up on the weekend doesn’t cut it. Adults need a long stretch of sleep day after day so they can turn on our anti-inflammatory hormones and process, repair and regenerate.
Sleep is a priority in stress management.
So, how do you reign stress in? What’s the magic bullet? Sadly, there is none. What works for one person, may not work for you. It’s a bit of trial and error, but the outcome will certainly benefit your cardiovascular, digestive and overall health.
Balancing blood sugar throughout the day will reduce insulin spikes and crashes. The spikes and crashes amplify your stress reaction. To do so, reduce (or better yet, eliminate) refined carbohydrates (anything made with flour). And make sure you include a protein and healthy fat (along with lots of vegetables or fruit) at every meal. This simple correction can help calm the stress rollercoaster caused by food.
Reducing stressors in your life is another obvious step. Ask yourself, can you:
Put less pressure on yourself? Forgo perfection for “good enough”?
Ask for help?
Delegate to someone else? And be ok with it not being done your way?
Finally, make that decision and commitment to yourself? You might not be there. Or, perhaps you focus on only one thing. That one thing can set you up for success for the other steps in this list.
Beyond the above shits, try to incorporate:
A set bedtime. Start by identifying what time you have to get up (for me, it's 6:15 am) and work backwards 7 - 10 hours. That's the time to hit the hay.
Deep breathing – in the shower, the car, the bathroom
Mindfulness when eating … slow down and CHEW your food
Meditation – there are lots of free apps
A walk in nature. OK, not all of us have nature at our finger tips. How about a walk to work or at lunch so you can let a little sunshine into your life? Light during the day will help produce melatonin at night
Unplug before bed (read a book, take a bath, connect with your partner)
Exercise for vitality vs vanity (yoga, tai chi, etc.)
Connect with loved ones (a phone call, a conversation, a cup of tea, a walk, SKYPE)
Stress is a huge and often underappreciated factor in our health. It can impact your physical body much more than you might realize.
Stress has been shown to increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes, affect your immune system, digestion and sleep.
There are things you can do to both reduce stressors and also to improve your response to it.
You can ditch that stress mess!
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