I swear sometimes I think I am channeling my inner cave woman. Not because I have poor hygiene or poor nutrition and no healthcare, but because of my wicked sense of stress. Man, I carry it around like the weight of the world some days.
You name, I can stress about it. Even though I know that stress can wreak havoc on my body, I still have a hard time channeling my inner calm.
How Stress Can Affect Your Health
See, when you are having a stress response to something, it makes your body feel like you’re under attack. Thanks to our caveman heritage, that triggers a “fight or flight” series of hormones and chemicals that are released into our bodies.
Adrenaline, Cortisol, and Norepinephrine all start waving around their giant clubs, ready to either help us attack, or run like we’re being chased.
Although we’re not really being chased by animals that want to have us for snack, our bodies are still rather primitive in that sense and react that way when we get stressed. They do the best they can, but their primary goal is to protect us. Unfortunately, we make that a bit impossible when we put ourselves through constant, high-levels of stress.
You see, when we’re stressed, our bodies go through a bunch of changes. Suddenly, blood gets diverted to our muscles, our heart starts beating faster, our breathing changes, we become hyper-aware of the “threat”, and other functions slow down so that, should we need to escape or fight that saber toothed tiger, we have as much energy as possible to make that happen. Only in the case of today’s stress, it’s more likely to be stresses over money, work, and family.
How Stress Can Hurt Your Body
It’s no wonder that so many of us are tired, distracted, and wound tight enough that sometimes the smallest things seem to set us off. Stress does that. It makes it difficult to think rationally, strategically, and logically. It causes our bodies to hold tension and can lead to pain, headaches (Hello, Migraines!), and back pain. Feeling stuffy, achy, and tense all the time is also a big gift that stress keeps on giving too! It’s the gift that everyone wishes they could return.
Plagued with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or constipation? Just thank all of the stress you’re under. In fact, sometimes we’re so stressed out that we grind our teeth and wear away at the enamel. Even our teeth aren’t safe from stress!
Our immune systems are also in a state of flux thanks to stress. When you’re run down, your body can’t fight off the flu and colds. But the idea of getting more sleep doesn’t really work either, because stress robs us of uninterrupted, restful sleep. Insomnia can impact a person’s ability to function and that in turn causes, you guessed it, more stress.
High Blood Pressure
One of the scariest changes in our bodies when we’re stressed is an increase in blood pressure. High blood pressure has been linked to heart attack and stroke. In fact, I have no doubt that the high blood pressure I’ve experienced this year has been a direct result of stress.
Stress also causes us to make unhealthy food choices. Amen! Since being in Precision Nutrition this year, I’ve become much more aware of what I’m eating and why. The more stressed I am, the more frequently I reach for the baked goods and the ice cream. Stress makes me crave carbs. And that leads to weight gain and depression, which starts the whole stress cycle all over again.
Let’s face it, when you’re stressed, you don’t want one more thing to do – and that includes intimacy. Stress can decrease your libido which can cause problems with your relationships. That in turn causes, yep, more stress. See the pattern?
How to Combat Stress
There’s no magic answer or simple cure to combat the stress in your life. However, there are a few things you can do to help alleviate some of it:
- Name it. Call it out. Recognize when you’re feeling stressed and, instead of ignoring it, let yourself be aware.
- Move. No, not move your household, your body. I’m not telling you to start some high impact, super intense cardio program. In fact, I’d suggest the opposite. Take a slow walk, try some yoga, learn to meditate, try weight lifting. Slow down, but move.
- Sleep. Try shutting off your phone, turning off the television, and focusing on sleep. Cut the caffeine after 2pm. Try some relaxing yoga before you get into bed. Diffuse essential oils. Whatever works for you – do it.
Your body and your mind will thank you.
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