“Stress is important, we need some stress in our lives. Our bodies and brains are designed for it. If you don’t have stress, you go into boredom, and that can be as damaging in some ways as the other end of the spectrum. What’s important is that we are able to deal with stress effectively and recover. Resulting in positive emotions.” – Dr. William Bird – Practicing GP, CEO and Founder of Intelligent Health
A lot of us will have experienced some level of stress in life and would consider it as ‘normal’. From fatigue to headaches, there are some physical signs of stress that shouldn’t be ignored. Relationships, work challenges, everyday life and health issues can all cause some level of anxiety.
Primary stress hormones are made by the adrenal glands; two small glands situated on top of the kidneys. Our bodies know how to deal with stress and activate our fight or flight response by producing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline in response to stress, which then in our defence, causes a variety of bodily changes so we are stronger to escape the possible threat. Defence mechanisms could be increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, breathing becomes faster and shallower and our muscles tense. This is called the ‘stress response’ and is intended to be temporary. Once the crisis has passed, our system should settle back into homeostasis.
In the modern world however, the ‘danger’ our bodies perceive comes in many forms and is more frequent: energy bills, unread emails, environmental pollution exposure, food intolerances, bad weather, health worries and more add up every single day and keep our bodies in an extended state of activation. When stress lasts for an extended period or becomes a constant part of our lives, our bodies have difficulty maintaining regular bodily functions. With so many stressors coming from all angles, it’s harder to return to our baseline ‘rest and digest’ state and end up experiencing chronic stress.
Chronic stress unchecked causes the body to stay in the stress response, causing our hormones to become systemically dysregulated, our adrenal glands to become fatigued and followed by a cascade of negative health outcomes. Some of which include a variety of physical symptoms that you may not even associate with stress:
Stress hormones coursing through our bodies can make it very difficult to have a restful sleep or relax, causing insomnia and sleepiness during the day. Consequently, we may spend a lot of time in bed, thinking we’re sleeping when actually, our sleep is inadequate or of poor quality. This only compounds the issue as deep rest is so vital for healing and de-stressing.
Stress often affects digestion by decreasing the production of stomach acids and changing how food moves through your body, causing an upset stomach, heartburn, trapped wind, nausea, diarrhoea, and/or constipation.
Feeling exhausted is a common symptom of long-term stress. When our brain experiences stress, it works overtime making is difficult for our bodies to accomplish everyday tasks and face difficulty getting started in the mornings. Fatigue that isn’t fixed by a good night’s sleep can be a sign that your adrenals are struggling, particularly if you know you have a lot on your plate.
4.Poor functioning immune system.
The phrase “You’ll worry yourself sick” contains a lot of truth. Long-term stress impairs our immunity, so we’re more susceptible to colds, flus, and other illnesses. Also, it may take more time than usual for us to recover from infections.
Stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol can trigger vascular changes that cause tension headaches or migraines. In other words, you might develop a pounding headache in the middle of a business meeting, or the headache might hit once you’re trying to relax at the weekend.
6.Decrease in sexual desire.
Excessive cortisol is associated with stress and can impair the well function of our reproductive system. In men, chronic stress can lower testosterone and sperm production and cause impotence. In women, stress can cause periods to become irregular, extremely painful, or entirely absent, and can reduce libido.
Ways to naturally reduce stress.
Exercise increases your overall health and your sense of well-being, which puts more pep in your step every day. But physical activity also has some direct stress-busting benefits. It pumps up your endorphins, the natural “feel-good” chemical produced and stored in the pituitary gland of the brain.
Spending more time outdoors not only connects us with nature, but also with ourselves. Being outside promotes mental health and also helps boost our immune system by increasing our vitamin D intake. Parks, playgrounds, rivers and other urban green and blue spaces have proven to promote mental health and well-being by reducing stress, enhancing social cohesion, and supporting physical activity. The mental health charity Mind suggest that being in nature could also improve your mood, reduce feelings of anger, and improve your confidence and self-esteem. The Canal and River Trust work with communities to transform their local canal or river, creating places and spaces that can be used and enjoyed by everyone, every day.
Practice good sleep hygiene
Good sleep hygiene is all about putting yourself in the best position to sleep well each and every night. Optimizing your sleep schedule, pre-bed routine, and daily routines is part of harnessing habits to make quality sleep feel more automatic. Creating a pleasant bedroom environment can also be an invitation to relax and doze off.
Spending time with family and friends
A close family and good relationships improve your ability to deal with life’s changes and challenges. Knowing that you are loved, cared for, and needed gives you a sense of belonging and purpose. This assurance motivates you to keep moving forward toward success.
Practice relaxation techniques
Meditation is an excellent way to hit pause on life’s stresses. You can also try calming breathing techniques, such as lengthening the out-breath to double the length of the in-breath, e.g., breathe in for 4 counts, out for 8 counts. Repeat for several minutes. Using the diaphragm helps stimulate the lower lobes of the lungs which have receptors that cause more calm and reduce excessive cortisol levels and increases mental function.
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