Let me start by saying not all stress is bad. In short doses it can even be helpful. Small amounts of cortisol, our stress hormone, can improve our brain function, for example when giving a talk, hosting a board meeting or performing in an exam. Our concentration becomes heightened. It even propels us out of bed in the morning when running late! In the short term it can also increase blood clotting if you are physically injured.
The issue of chronic stress – when the body is in a constant state of high alert – occurs when we think we can get away with burning the candle at both ends. Like everything in life, it eventually catches up with you. And it may be in the form of high blood pressure, obesity, insomnia, auto-immune disease, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, burn-out, strokes as well as mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. I truly can’t understand why some of us feel it is a badge of honour to boast about how super busy and stressed we are. It’s not. You are putting your life at risk.
We are living in a time of information and technology overload added to at present with fears and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. We are eating convenience foods packed with sugar and additives and self-medicating with alcohol and many of us are less active than we used to be.
Our bodies are constantly communicating information from one area to the other between the gut and the brain to determine if we are in a state of thrive or survive. Stress is the body’s natural defence against predators and danger. When you go into a stress state, commonly known as fight or flight mode when the body thinks you are in physical or emotional danger, the autonomic nervous system is activated. It controls all the automatic processes in the body such as breathing and digestion. There are two branches of this system, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic branch floods the body with hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline. Your heart beats faster so that more blood and oxygen reach your muscles, your blood pressure rises, breath quickens and your senses become sharper. Our default branch is the parasympathetic one also known as rest and digest mode. Or thrive state. It controls the functions of the body at rest. The muscles to relax and heart rate to decrease. When under threat, the brain also triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol from the adrenal glands. High cortisol levels have a negative impact on our health including weight gain, a weakened immune system, insomnia, brain fog, type 2 diabetes, depression, high blood pressure to name a few.
It is not possible to eliminate stress completely but we can learn how we respond to it starting with our lifestyle choices. If you are exhausted, bloated, overwhelmed and feeling under constant pressure, these are all signs that your body and mind are out of sync. I had all these symptoms following my husband’s stroke and was heading for burn out. I studied to become a Health Coach in order to help him and wound up learning how to heal myself and turn my health around so I was better equipped to deal with this new curve ball that had been thrown in our path. And now I am happy to help whoever I can. You are not alone.
Top 5 Causes of Stress & How to Manage Them
- Health – listen to your body. Focus on what you can improve. Make a plan for your mind, body and soul. Consult a professional if needed.
- Work – do you love what you do? If not make small changes or take steps to change your situation.
- Money – write down all your expenses and make a weekly or monthly budget.
- Family & Friendships – remove/avoid/distance yourself from toxic relationships. Change your reaction in to a thoughtful, solution-oriented response. Look at your own behaviour too.
- News – we are bombarded with COVID-19 news on a loop at present adding to the fear factor. Stay informed with the facts and limit news consumption to certain times of the day.
This list is not exhaustive. We all respond to stress in different ways. What one person my find stressful may be very different from what another finds stressful. Our symptoms may be different. Too much stress is clearly harmful to our physical and mental wellbeing.
Fortunately, there are many ways to manage stress and many practical solutions and strategies.