It’s already obvious that stress makes you tired, anxious and frustrated, but you may not have realized just how much stress affects your life, and how differently your body, mind and spirit will feel once you’ve discovered ways to reduce it. Here are five surprising ramifications of being subjected to constant stress:
1. Chronic Stress Increases Cortisol Creating a Sad, Confused Brain
When we feel stressed out by life, our body starts to make stress hormones. Among the many it produces is cortisol. This stress hormone is harmless in small doses, but if our body is constantly secreting it in a fight-or-flight reaction to chronic stress, then problems start to develop.
We start to become depressed more easily, and our brain may not function at its full capacity. Our memory becomes weaker and our problem-solving skills start to diminish. We end up with a sad, stunned, confused brain. If stress becomes a habit, these cortisol levels can even start to cause other stress hormones, like norepinephrine, to become too abundant.
Fortunately, aside from exercise, meditation, spending time in nature and yoga—which are all known to lower levels of cortisol—there are seven adaptogenic herbs which are also known to help lower this stress hormone. An adaptogen is a plant or herbal substance which adapts to your body’s needs and helps to provide support in the areas which are most called for. These include:
- Holy Basil
- Licorice Root
- Cordycep Mushrooms
2. Chronis Stress Takes a Toll on Your Adrenal Glands
The adrenal glands are two small glands, located just above the kidneys. They work closely with the pituitary and hypothalamus in the brain. They are responsible for producing sex hormones and DHEA, as well as corticosteroids and mineralcorticoids, helping regulate our sleep-wake cycle.
These glands may be small, but they have important work to do. When they are constantly trying to adapt to stress, they start to have a more difficult time regulating our hormonal balance. In a stressful situation, the adrenals raise our blood pressure, transfer blood from our intestines to our extremities, increase our heart rate and suppress our immune system temporarily so that we can face whatever life-threatening (or perceived life-threatening) situation that arises. This should not, however, be the case 24-7. The response of the adrenals to stress is meant to be short-lived.
In experiments with rats, adrenal fatigue occurred when the rats were constantly stressed, even to the point that they eventually died. Since many of us in the modern world are not allowed sufficient recovery from everyday stress, our adrenals become tired out. This can cause digestive problems, allergies and other health concerns as our immune systems become depleted.
How do you restore adrenal health? Start getting more sleep, eat small, healthy meals every two-to-four hours throughout the day to keep your blood sugar levels even, exercise ten to 30 minutes five days a week, and take steps to reduce stress. Go on a walk. Take deep breaths. Sing in the shower. Pray or meditate. All these practices will restore your adrenals to their original health.
3. Stress Creates Free Radicals
Free radicals are groups of atoms that cause cellular damage in the body. They are formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. Once formed, these free radicals can start to make chains, attacking our cells down to the DNA. Stress helps to create free radicals, which end up causing disease in our bodies.
One of the easiest ways to reduce the free radicals in our bodies is by eating right. Antioxidants that are in Vitamins like C, E and Beta Carotene help to break up the free radical chain before it can cause any damage.
When you eat things like broccoli, kale, cantaloupe, kiwi, strawberries, peaches, yams, Swiss chard, onions, ginger, etc., you are dousing your cells with antioxidants, which scavenge free radicals and rid them from your body.
4. Stress Creates a Cycle of Fear and Negativity
It may not be fair, but chronic stress creates fear and negativity which leads to even more stress! The amygdala is a brain center which is responsible for feelings of fear. When we are constantly stressed out, the amygdala grows larger. More neural connections are also made in this area of the brain, making feelings of fear and stress like a well-worn path in the grass.
To counteract this phenomenon, you need to stop stress and fear however you can to end the cycle.
A Harvard study found that meditation helps to shrink the amygdala to a more appropriate size, and reduce hyper-active neuronal activity there, and instead increases activity in parts of the brain that create feelings of well-being, happiness and calm.
6. Stress Causes Your Brain Cells to Commit Suicide
It may sound crazy, but stress causes telomeres, which are chromosomes that act as a protective end cap, like the plastic cap on shoe laces to deteriorate. When these become too short, our life span shortens along with them.
Every time a cell divides, a telomere get shorter. When they reach a critically short length, the cell simply commits suicide, and dies. Stress stinks!
Instead of allowing stress to kill off important cells in our brain, we can support telomere length and health by taking whole food supplements or the foods themselves that provide B Vitamin folate, Omega 3s and Vitamins C and E.
All of these nutrients have been shown in scientific tests to support the health of our telomeres. This means our cells are less likely to commit suicide, and even more exciting, research has also shown that the longer our telomeres are, the more extended our lives tend to be!
While it may not be easy to totally eliminate stress from your life, there are proactive, simple steps you can take to make sure that stress doesn’t run it. By eating healthy foods, getting exercise, meditating, staying active, spending time in nature and supplementing with high quality herbs, we can put stress in its place, and live happy.