We are experiencing a modern-day epidemic. It's not an infection, or even a diagnosable disease. It's the plague of high stress. Every one of us has experienced stress at some point. But never before has it been so overwhelming for so many people. That's why we're looking at the all-important question: can you beat stress?
What is stress?
It might feel like the word 'stress' is overused. But stress covers a huge area of life, and the definition is very broad.
Stress is defined as the response to an environmental demand or pressure. That means that everything around us—from the temperature to the weather, from an injuring force to a bad day at work—can cause stress.
There are different types of stress. Stress may be defined by type. Physical stress, for example, may include inflammation in response to injury. Or it could be defined by the outcome of the stressor – eu-stress is considered positive stress that helps us through an intense situation like an exam.
However, there is a growing focus on the area of emotional stress. This stress can be caused by any combination of factors. The main problem is that our response is a negative emotion or behavior, including anxiety, anger, sadness and coping mechanisms, such as emotional eating.
What does stress do to us?
To really understand stress, we need to understand what it does to us on a biological level. Here are just a few of the major impacts on the physical body.
Stress Hormone Production
When we're stressed, our adrenal glands will release stress hormones. Of particular concern is cortisol.
Cortisol can affect all sorts of body processes. It can impact the nervous system, the immune system, the digestive system and more. If it's produced in high amounts for a long period of time, it can cause even more problems.
Of particular concern is the way that it encourages abdominal fat storage. If you tend to store most of your excess fat around your stomach, you might have what is known as 'cortisol belly'.
High cortisol will also deplete levels of DHEA, another hormone produced by the adrenal glands. DHEA is linked to immunity, which is why we may get sick when stressed.
Nervous System Function
For those who slept through Biology class, there are two main branches of the nervous system that are implicated in stress. You've got your sympathetic, or 'fight or flight' nervous system. Then you have your parasympathetic, or 'rest and digest' nervous system.
Both play an important role in health. However, under stress, we spend far too much time in 'fight or flight'. Our pulse will race, our heart thumps and our breathing is rapid. But we miss out on important functions, like sleeping properly, recovering through rest and digesting food optimally.
This may explain a lot of the reason why stress can lead to so many complex and serious conditions. Without rest, nourishment and relaxation, we cannot stay whole and healthy. The body simply falls apart, so to speak.
Blood Sugar Levels
Ever noticed that your energy is all over the place when you're stressed? This might be because it affects your blood sugar levels.
Biologically, this is a protective mechanism. Your body will release energy into the bloodstream for easy access to defeat your opponent, or run from the problem.
However, running from your boss is frowned on. So, you have all this energy and no way to use it up. Long-term, stress may even play a major role in the development of insulin resistance and diabetes.
When you combine these different mechanisms together, it isn't a pretty picture. If the stress continues, you end up sick, prone to injury and unable to rest properly. Here lies the heart of the issue with stress.
What is stress linked to?
Stress is linked to all sorts of health issues. It's associated with things such as:
- Higher levels of depression
- Higher levels of anxiety
- Weight issues, including obesity and eating disorders
- Higher chance of infection and illness
- Shorter lifespan
- Higher blood pressure
- High risk of heart disease
- High risk of diabetes
- High risk of autoimmune disease
- High risk of IBS
For something that we can't even see, stress sure can cause a lot of issues.
How can you beat stress?
The good thing is, it's not all doom and gloom. There are ways to manage stress, and even beat stress. Seeking professional advice is a good idea, but it can be hard to fit into a busy schedule. Luckily, there are options for solutions you can use wherever you are.
By being mindful about your situation and your life in general, you can greatly reduce stress. Being mindful works in every area of your life – from what you eat to how you think. Introducing mindfulness is a key step in mastering your stress levels.
What we eat can have a huge impact on stress levels. Have you ever felt anxious and jittery after coffee, or calmer after a big bowl of oats or soup? There's a reason for that. Food is medicine, particularly when it comes to handling stress.
The way that you move your body (or don't) can make a big difference to your general well-being, including your stress levels.
When you move your body, you produce feel-good neurotransmitters and hormones. If your body is feeling good, your mood will often follow. By including movement into your regime, you can get a handle on stress.
If life is really overwhelming, adding in a stress-support supplement can tide you over during hard times. A supplement is quick and easy to take, making it a stress-free activity. However, you do want to pick a supplement that is right for your body and your level of stress.
We'll go into each of these areas in depth in future articles. So, if beating stress naturally is your goal, keep your eyes peeled!
Remember, we're not doctors. If you are feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope, you should seek professional help.