Stress, unmanaged over time will kill you – period. If you doubt this, well…, in my humble opinion, you’re only hurting yourself. I think most people know this at some level, but don’t really take it heart due to its subtle nature. Still, what I think most people don’t realize is how stress can make us sick along the caustic way. With this in mind, I thought I’d give you a little overview.
What is Stress?
First of all, it’s important that we understand exactly what stress is. Stress is the pressures of life and how one perceives, believes, reacts, and copes with these pressures. According to Webster’s, stress is “a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation.”
That’s right – disease causation! And, since my forte is holistic wellness, the STRESS in our lives must be identified, considered and managed correctly. Hence, the reason for writing this little article for you. Again, let me reiterate…
Stress, UNMANAGED, can be a major factor in causing disease.
In response to stress, our “knee-jerk” reaction is what is called “fight or flight.”
What is the “Flight or Flight” Response?
“Fight or flight” is an innate God-given biological mechanism that helps ensure our survival. In more ancient times when we weren’t so “civilized,” when faced with danger (stress), people typically responded in one of two ways:
- To stay and fight in times of danger or threat, or
- To flee to a safer place.
And, in ancient times, when in duress or danger, either one of the above two actions would resolve the immediate stress issue, one way or another. The stress response would dissipate, and our bodies (from a biochemical perspective) would then return to a state of normalcy. Our inherent “fight or flight” stress response mechanism usually only lasted for a brief period of time.
You get stressed – you deal with it (via fight or flight) – issue resolved – body returns to a proper state of balance.
Stress and Contemporary Living
Unfortunately, within the confines of our modern society, things aren’t so cut and dry. In fact, on a daily basis, most humans face perils and struggles of a more complex nature: work conflict, relationship issues, technological challenges, overstimulation (TV, internet and the like), cell phones, environmental chemicals, junk food, email, and the list goes on. If the stress response mechanism becomes engaged and is not properly resolved or dealt with, we literally begin to stew in our stress juices. After a while in this prolonged state of stewing, our proverbial “pot is cooked.” We all know what this means for our physical and mental health. But just in case you don’t, take a look at the pink box on this page.
Excess Cortisol –
“Stewing in Stress Juice”
- Causes a loss of cell receptivity to insulin (insulin resistance)
- Promotes collagen loss of the skin (premature aging)
- Increases stomach acid production (Reflux)
- Affects sodium and potassium levels
- Acts as a diuretic (can promote dehydration)
- Weakens the immune system (more infection & illness)
- Reduces bone formation (promotes osteoporosis)
- Damages brain cells (memory loss and impaired learning)
- Increases blood pressure
- Can shut down the reproductive system (erectile dysfunction, infertility, miscarriage, etc.)
- Reduces seratonin levels (depression)
Still not convinced? Read more on what stress can do to your body. Check out Chris Kresser’s great article on How Stress Can Make You Fat and Diabetic.
Most people have an idea of what stress is and feels like, but most don’t understand what it does on a biological level – on the inside. Here’s a very quick and simple overview. Keep in mind that there is a very complex and efficient biochemical process in place during our “fight or flight” episodes. You don’t need to be a scientist or doctor to understand the severe effect that it can have on your body, but it is important to have a basic understanding.
Stress & Cortisol – What It Does to Your Body
The body’s main companion hormone for stress is cortisol. When we’re under stress (emotional, physical, mental, environmental, psychological, etc.), cortisol levels increase in the body to help us quickly cope. Under normal and ideal situations, a cortisol release is a good thing, as it helps the body to properly and quickly respond to stress on a biological level. Remember, we’re talking survival here.
The primary functions of cortisol are:
- to increase blood sugar,
- suppress the immune system, and
- aid in fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism.
Under normal conditions (when our bodies are in balance and we’re coping well with stress), cortisol is at its highest in the morning and at its lowest levels in the evening, during sleeping hours. However, under a constant state of duress (overstress), cortisol can cause serious problems for us. Again, I call your attention to the pink box on this page.
Ok, so now that we know that stress is a serious monster if it gets out of control, what do we do about it?
In my following article, I’ll give some simple strategies on how to counter stress and cope with it in my following article. Meanwhile, as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to comment below.