Many experts believe that unhealthy stress is the number one cause of disease and poor health. Scientists agree that stress causes actual brain chemistry cal changes, and these changes can influence your health. Stress is or may be a contributing factor in everything from backaches and insomnia to cancer, heart disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Heart disease is the number one killer of American women. High blood pressure, heart attacks, heart palpitations, and stroke are often stressrelated cardiovascular conditions.
Often, people feel the effects of stress as fatigue, various aches and pains, and headaches, or as emotional disorders such as anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances. Stress affects others by causing gastrointestinal disorders such as ulcers, lower abdominal cramps, colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome. Frequently, people under the effects of stress will have more colds and infections due to lowered immune system responses. Stress can also cause skin conditions such as itchy skin and rashes.
Why Are We So Stressed Out?
Physical stress may be the result of too much to do, not enough sleep, a poor diet, or effects of an illness. Stress can also be mental: when you worry about money, a loved one’s illness, or retirement; or experience an emotionally devastating event, such as the death of a spouse or being fired from work can add an enormous amount of stress to your life.
However, much of our stress comes from less dramatic, everyday responsibilities. Obligations and pressures, both physical and mental, are not always obvious to us. In response to these daily strains, your body automatically increases blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, metabolism, and blood flow to your muscles. This response is intended to help your body react quickly and effectively to a highpressure situation.
This is why exercise is so vital. In nature, we are designed to be far more active than we are in modern life. The fight or flight response is meant to result in a physical activity, such as fighting or fleeing. When you are constantly reacting to stressful situations without making adjustments to counter the physical effects, you will feel stress—which can threaten your health and well being. Stress significantly ages us, not only cosmetically, but throughout the body.
Stress and Hormones
Stress releases adrenaline into the bloodstream, which converts to cortisol. When there is an overabundance of cortisol in the bloodstream over long periods, it can lead to problems with thinking, raised blood pressure, weight gain in the belly, lowered immune response, muscle mass loss and connective tissue weakening, growth hormone level imbalances, blood sugar imbalances, and hypothyroidism. High cortisol from stress strongly affects memory, and even leaves the blood brain barrier open, allowing toxins to penetrate where they would not go otherwise. A life of stress leaves people more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
High cortisol can be reduced through sunshine, regular rest, exercise, and fun. If cortisol levels become too low, however, stress continues and adrenal depletion ensues. This leads to exhaustion, and is implicated in Chronic Fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.
The adrenals also produce too little DHEA when they are busy with cortisol, which can be rebalanced through joy and laughter. You be can be tested for your DHEA levels to see if you need supplementation for either low or high levels of cortisol phases, but careful supervision by a health care practitioner is suggested to make sure DHEA is being used to create the proper hormones in your body. Do NOT use DHEA if you suspect prostate cancer.
Treatments for Reducing Stress
Here are a few suggestions for stress management to help maintain a healthy lifestyle:
- First and foremost, stop thriving on stress. If your lifestyle choices cause too much stress, ask yourself what you gain by continuing to make these choices (or by not changing). Perhaps a larger fear or avoidance pattern is behind the stress.
- Remove caffeine from your diet—completely! Stress is severely worsened by stimulants like coffee, and sugar, even though you may be tempted to use them because your weakened adrenals may need extra stimulation if you are pushing yourself to keep going.
Don’t, as that only perpetuates the cycle and you will feel even worse later.
- Noise increases stress response, so find time in a quiet place. Better yet, create a quiet space and use it regularly for introspection, meditation, and relaxation.
- Supplement with DHEA and vitamin Bcomplex.
Make sure you’re eating highly nutritious food if you have a highstress lifestyle. You can help balance your system by adding super food nutrition from dark green, leafy vegetables, bee pollen, olive leaf extract, pine bark extract, and other nutri- entrich foods and botanicals.
When you feel stress start to build, take a deep breath! Flood your body with lifegiving oxygen and feel the difference immediately. There’s a reason Grandma always said take a deep breathe and settle down—because it works! One of the body’s responses to stress is to shorten the breath, which will deprive the body of oxygen. Again, in nature we would typically respond to stress in ways that would have us fighting, fleeing, or both. Physical activity (think exercise) following a stressful or threatening encounter will have us breathing deeply and more efficiently using the adrenaline and other hormones and chemicals released by our body. In modern life, we often deal with stress while we are sitting down. We continue the shallow breathing and often keep it all inside. A recipe for disaster!
- Jin Shin Do is a method of working with acupressure points to help release core stresses and help you cope with everyday stressors.
- A good massage will alleviate much stress and muscle tension.
- For many, aromatic baths can do wonders. Fill a hot bath and add Epsom salts and 20 drops of lavender, chamomile, lilac, or neroli essential oils. Breathe deeply while you soak. The aromatic healing properties will melt away your stress.