Life seems to be busier than ever and the to-do lists aren’t getting shorter.
Do the food shop, the school run, that career-changing pitch and make your best friend’s birthday cake – sound familiar? Life seems to be busier than ever and the to-do lists aren’t getting shorter. It may be a well-documented misconception that we can ‘have it all’ but we’ll give it a good go all the same. With a jam-packed diary and more to remember, it’s no wonder that sometimes things can become a little stressful. But what effect does it have on our health, mind and body? We explore what damage it does and how we can avoid tearing our hair out when the bank puts us on hold for another ten minutes.
FIGHT OR FLIGHT
The medical definition of stress is a bodily reaction to an unexpected situation. It happens when we feel that we can’t cope with the pressure or there’s a threat to our survival. We may be unaware but in times of stress, our body is hardwired to enter its ‘fight or flight’ mode; a burst of hormones that are released to help our body and mind handle the situation as best we can. Firstly, they give priority to all physical functions to provide muscles with more power to escape dangerous scenarios making you run faster and fight harder. Then they increase the heart-rate and blood pressure quickly in order to deliver more oxygen and blood sugar to the most vital muscle groups. If you’ve ever wondered why your deodorant is working overtime when that deadline looms, it’s because your hormones are trying to cool your muscles down to help them stay efficient. At this time, they are diverting blood away from the surface of the skin and back to the core of our bodies to reduce the blood we could lose if we became hurt. As a result, our immune system is activated and ready to fight off any physical harm that is done to us and breathing is accelerated to supply more oxygen for energy conversion. And just in case you need to adopt superhero qualities to deal with the situation, our sight will become more acute and focused while our pain threshold is diminished as the body releases analgesic hormones. Impressive, yes, but this series of events can actually have a detrimental effect on our health and lead to a host of long-term health problems.
Although we’re none the wiser to the biological changes our body produces when we’re running late or sitting in traffic, we do notice the effects it has on our mental state of mind. “Your adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and secrete important hormones that help you buffer stress and adapt to everyday life,” says nutritional therapist Henrietta Norton (wildnutrition.com). “Under stress, healthy adrenals increase their output of cortisol and DHEA to enable you to preserve health. If this becomes chronic, the adrenals can no longer keep up with the demand, and DHEA levels begin to fall, signifying adrenal exhaustion. Complaints of insomnia, fatigue, depression, irritability, and digestive difficulties become increasingly common as a result. As this becomes a more chronic occurrence, the results of high cortisol and adrenaline levels from prolonged stress include:
“The result of disruption to mineral and blood sugar balance can lead to us craving unhealthy stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol, and fatty foods as a temporary pick me up. Unfortunately these only offer short term relief (if any at all) and exacerbate the ‘stress cycle’. These foods and drinks can inhibit the body’s use of important B vitamins and magnesium too. These nutrients are in greater demand during times of stress therefore without them energy production and healthy immune and nervous system function can be affected.”
Although screaming into a pillow or squeezing the life out of that stress ball may be a more tempting solution to stressful situations, there are long-term fixes that can ensure you keep calm and carry on. Henrietta Norton shares her top tips for a calmer consciousness:
The UK’s leading specialist in drug-free mal-alignment therapy and stress-busting breathing techniques, Caroline Kremer (carolinekremer.com), shares her favourite calming exercise. Try to practise this sequence daily or any time that you feel like you need to calm down. This can be done sitting, standing, walking, even running! It will help the body to come back to a deeper, more relaxing way of breathing in an instant.
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