Today, living with some form of stress is a common experience. But all too often, you don't recognize the extent to which stress is affecting your health.
In some cases, prolonged stress may begin to feel "normal" to you - that is until cracks start to appear in your physical functioning and your body reaches its limit.
Are You On Overload?
While each of us might perceive stress differently, the main effect that stress has on our bodies is the same for all of us. Stressors, whatever their origin, stimulate the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol which trigger physical reactions within us, prompting us to take action and: fight or take flight or freeze.
When it comes to a dangerous, life-threatening situation, this reaction is healthy and key to your physical survival. But when every day is filled with physical, financial, social or work challenges, the stress response itself becomes a threat to your health. That's because overtime, the stress hormones start to break down your body.
Stress-related complaints and disorders account for 75-90% of all visits to primary care physicians and an estimated 1 million Americans are absent from work each day due to stress-related complaints. Moreover, stress has been linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis, and suicide.1 That's why it's important to identify the stressors in your life and remove them, where possible, or change your response to them.
Symptoms of prolonged stress correlate to the fight, flight or freeze response.
Here's a quick breakdown of how these responses can manifest themselves:
The Fight Response: frustrated, easily annoyed, quarrelsome, bullying, hostile, angry
The Flight Response: sad, anxious, nervous, agitated, indecisive, inattentive, withdrawn, disrupted sleep, physically ill, overeat, engage in addictive behaviors
The Freeze Response: constant fatigue, indecisive & immobile, stuck, emotionally numb, fearful, worrying all the time, obsessive
If the cause of stress is not identified and its effects on your life modified or removed, it can lead to chronic illness. As shown here, every part of your body is susceptible to the effects of ongoing stress:
Digestion: Colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic constipation, weight gain
Lungs: Asthmna, bronchitis
Heart and Circulation: High blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, heart attack, stroke
Musculoskeletal System: Arthritis, fibromyalgia
Nervous System: Depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder
Reproduction: Infertility, erectile dysfunction
Immunity: Chronic fatigue syndrome, autoimmune disease
The causes of stress in your life may be easy for you to pinpoint, like work, finances or family. They may also be less apparent, but may nevertheless leave their mark by making you tired and weak for no reason or adding on some "extra" belly fat. Here's a list of common stressors:
Psychological: Family, finances, work, school/university, major life events
Physiological: Infection, accidents, surgery, pain (acute & chronic), intense exercise, poor sleep
Environmental: Chemical/toxin exposure, allergens, noise & air pollution
Metabolic: Nutritional deficiencies, prescription medications, inflammation, diets high in fats, sugar or salt, impaired ability to clear toxins
Reduce and Relieve Stress
If you're already feeling more stressed after reading the list of health implications of prolonged stress, take heart - your body is stress resilient and capable of recovery. Recovery begins when you see the connection between the triggers and how they make you feel.
When the stress response is turned on, your entire body reacts. Self-awareness is the first step in changing and reducing the effect stress has on you. Although there are some stressors which you can't modify, there are many things you can do to lessen their influence on your life. Building stress resilience involves using coping strategies. Here are a few things you can start doing right away:
Take a few minutes to breathe from your belly. Deep breathing increases your oxygen intake & releases tension.
Get more sleep. Your body repairs itself while you sleep. Adequate sleep - 7 - 9 hours each night - will enable you to better cope with the stressors in your life.
Take the time to eat three healthy meals a day.
Take a break from your work and go on a short walk. Movement, coupled with some fresh air, can help you focus better on the challenges at hand.
When facing the challenge of too much to do and too little time, you might be tempted to skip meals, workouts or even getting enough sleep. But these three things are among the most important ways to combat the effect of stress on your life. Taking time to look for ways to build them into your schedule and keep them there is key to transforming stress.
Here are a few other ways you can reduce the impact of stress and restore your sense of well-being:
Reconnecting with the people that matter most in your life. Listening to those closest to you and being listened to by them helps you carry each others burdens and goes a long way toward relieving your stress.
Reduce the physical clutter in your environment. You'll be amazed at how much this helps you to relax and clear you own mind.
Redirect your energy to focus on more productive endeavors, especially those that provide you with a greater sense of fulfillment. Don't forget those hobbies or activities that always brought you joy, be it reading a good book, playing an instrument or just listening to music.
Look for ways to more effectively manage your time. There are many smartphone apps you can get to help you save time by staying organized.
Other ways to significantly reduce stress include:
Yoga, getting a massage, learning to meditate
In some instances, receiving counseling may be necessary to help you better navigate those difficult times in your life.
Let technology help you de-stress with an app that's just right for you:
GPS for the Soul: Assists you in managing stress by measuring and manage your level of stress using biofeedback and meditation tools. Created by Arianna Huffington and Deepak Chopra.
Headspace: Features guided meditation and mindfulness training.
Breathe2Relax: Learn more about stress and how you can manage it with breathing exercises.
Pay It Forward: When you do something good for someone else, you experience a unique sense of well-being. There's nothing like helping others to make you grateful for what you have and for those people who have been kind to you. We could sure use more people "paying it forward" in this country.
Pocket Yoga: Choose from various yoga poses and styles to put together your own de-stress yoga program.
Happify: Catch those negative, anxious or stressful thoughts and re-train your brain to tune in to positive attitudes like gratitude.
Stress Doctor: Watch your heart rate slow down and your stress level fall as you follow deep-breathing exercises.
My Mood Tracker: You can't change what you don't know. Where do your thoughts tend to drift to? Monitor your mood so you can identify patterns of negative feelings and the situations that are associated with them. The greater your awareness, the better you will be able to manage your moods.
See www.Inc.com for more apps for managing stress
Let Us Help You Thrive
Life is stressful, but the good news is you can counteract stress and even embrace the sources of moderate stress as opportunities for personal growth. Using the FirstLine Therapy program, we can help you identify your personal stress triggers, make lifestyle changes that promote healthier ways for dealing with stress, and help reverse the ill effects of stress on your body. In addition, we offer targeted dietary supplements which give your body the nutritional support it needs in times of stress. Contact us today for more information and a personalized nutritional consultation. Let us help you not just survive, but thrive.
Harris ML et al. The influence of perceived stress on the onset of arthritis in women: findings from the Australian Longitudinal Study on women's health. Ann Behav Med. 2013 Aug;46(1):9-18.
Metagenics. FirstLine Therapy: Your Journey to Better Health: A Step by Step Guide. 2015
Schneidmann N et al. Stress and health: psychological, behavioral, and biological determinants. Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2005;1:6-7-28.
The contents of this blog are intended for educational purposes only. The information presented here is not a substitute for proper medical attention, diagnosis, or treatment by a qualified healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider before starting or making any changes to an existing treatment plan, exercise program or dietary regimen, and before using nutritional supplements.
~ Dr. Sarah Williams ~ Concord & Nantucket, Massachusetts ~