Stress. In todays society it seems that you aren't living your best life and being the ultimate boss babe if you aren't a little stressed. People wear stress as a badge of honour and it has become so normalised that most people don't realise the harm that it's inflicting on their body. In this article we will discuss what stress is, what it does to your body and ways in which you can reduce your stress levels. Because lets face it, wouldn't we all want to be a little less stressed?
Stress is your bodies response to physical, mental or emotional pressure and this pressure causes physical changes in the body.
When we were running around with animal hides and clubs like less fashionable Flintstones, stress was a vital part of our survival. When faced with a Saber-tooth our body would flood with chemicals like Cortisol allowing us a much needed energy boost to either FIGHT or FLIGHT.
While our environment as changed a lot of since those early days our bodies have not. Your body doesn't know the difference between an animal attack and running late for work.
So what does this mean?
To answer that we have to look into the chain of reaction a stress response creates.
Lets take the previous example.
It's Monday morning and you've missed your alarm and are now late for work (we've all been there).
This situation triggers a stress response where your body gears up to either fight the threat or escape it. Immediately your body starts producing stress hormones cortisol, noradrenaline and adrenaline which increases your heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar.
Now all these responses are fantastic if faced with an impending animal attack or to make you jump out of bed but it's not going to help you get to work on time.
That ship has sailed.
This physical response also diverts energy away from repairing your tissues, absorbing nutrients and other essential functions so that all resources can be diverted to help with the stressful situation. By now you've probably called the office to explain the situation and the stressful event has now passed.
The only problem is that you still have those stress hormones running through your body and it usually takes 20 -30 minutes for your body to return to normal. That's 20-30 minutes that your body has stopped all except it's vital functions.
Your body also doesn't know the difference between real and imaginary threats so stressing because of a look a co worker gave you is as real to your body as if your co worker actually said something nasty to your face.
Now think about all the stressful situations (real and imagined) that you face each day.
Long term stress or chronic stress can cause or exacerbate many health problems.
These include mental health issues, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight gain as well as suppressing your immune system. In addition to it's effect on health, chronic stress can also change the way we behave. We are more likely to over eat, have angry outbursts and partake in risky behaviour such as drugs and alcohol.
Stress also impacts your skin
One of the effects of cortisol is that it triggers an over production of oil in your skin contributing to breakouts as well as breaking down your collagen and elastin fibres. And because your immune system is suppressed, your more likely to get rashes, redness and other inflammatory conditions such as eczema and rosacea.
Chronic stress also damages the mitochondria in your cells and alters your DNA increasing your fat manufacturing genes.
If reading this triggers a stress response don't fear! There's light at the end of the tunnel
If reading this is starting to trigger a stress response don't fear there's light at the end of the tunnel. Stress is not all bad. Short moments of stress encourages the growth of stem cells in the brain and can improve memory and alertness. Stress also can help with performance and strength by pumping your muscles full of blood and research has discovered that your body boosts it's immune response 15 minutes after an acute stressful event. The secret is turning your longterm chronic stress into acute short bursts that are manageable.
The first step is in identifying the causes of chronic stress. Finances, family, health and work are common causes of chronic stress. With the global pandemic finances are squeezed, families are isolated and mental and physical health can start to decline. Make a plan on how to minimise the impact of your stressors. The 5 second rule is a fantastic tool if you tend to procrastinate and can be really effective in making changes to your situation.
Self care is an important tool when dealing with chronic stress. Your body uses more nutrients when in a stressed state so making sure you eat a balanced diet full of immune boosting vitamins and minerals. Exercise utilises the stress hormones released and naturally lowers them while increasing serotonin and endorphins. There is a lot of research in support of the mind body connection. Mindfulness and meditation can help you tune into your emotions, connect to your inner critic and help you resolve any road blocks you may be having while also increasing your feel good hormones. If you struggle with meditation massage, facials, float lounges and yoga can all be great ways to relax.
Researchers have also found that sexual intimacy and orgasms lead to lower mortality rates, reduces the risk of certain cancers and lowers cortisol levels reducing stress. This is due to the release of oxytocin, DHEA and other endorphins.
Because chronic stress is a perceived threat that physically manifests itself in the body the most powerful coping tool you can have is to change your mindset. A Professor at Harvard Business School has found that by reappraising your anxiety as excitement you can change how you feel and ultimately the outcome.
So back to the example at the start of this article. You slept in and missed your alarm and now you're late for work. Before you panic you think to yourself 5,4,3,2,1 and jump out of bed. You ring the office explain the situation, it's not a big deal it happens to everyone. Maybe you can turn this into an opportunity and work from home today? You eat a nutritious breakfast, take a shower and enjoy your skin rituals. It's important to take the time to be present and thankful for the little things which brighten up your day. You put on your favourite outfit, repeat your affirmations in the mirror and give yourself a high five because your excited about the endless possibilities ahead.