Stress is physical
Did you know that stress has a very real physical impact on your health?
When we experience stress, changes occur in our hormone levels as a result of our system’s fight or flight response to stress. The fight or flight reaction results in a protective cascade of hormonal events designed to protect us from threatening or stressful situations.
It includes a rapid response mechanism (provided by the sympathetic nervous system) and a sustained backup response (provided by hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol). This helps us to run faster and fight harder – to significantly improve our ability to survive life-threatening events.
Why this can be problematic
When we are briefly exposed to a ‘real’ threatening stimulus these changes are helpful to the body – they prepare us for action to keep us safe.
However, what is tricky about stress in our modern day lives is that the majority of our stressors are ‘perceived’ stressors- mental not physical. This results in persistent stimulation of the stress pathway and chronic low-level cortisol secretion, which can become harmful to the body.
The physical impact
Stress affects changes in many systems of the body, including:
- control of sugar and fat,
- blood pressure,
- sex drive,
- and brain function.
Prolonged secretion of cortisol and other stress hormones are associated with:
- high blood pressure,
- high insulin levels with insulin resistance,
- high cholesterol,
- and increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
These can collectively become Metabolic Syndrome. In addition, stressful events that are appraised as harm or loss are likely to give rise to feelings of helplessness or depression. Events that are appraised as a threat are likely to give rise to feelings of anxiety – all of which in turn contribute to more stress and more overall health problems.
When you learn to manage your stress effectively and make your own health a priority this will positively impact your overall wellness and contribute to illness prevention.
What You Can Do:
Top 5 Ways To Manage Your Stress
- LIGHTEN YOUR LOAD. Try asking for help and letting go of some things. Think outside the box and remember that any small thing you can take off your plate (and this does not necessarily have to be the thing that is “stressing” you out) is helpful.
- BUILD UP YOUR STRESS RESISTANCE. Proper nutrition, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and relaxation are important ways to practice self care and build your resistance to stress.
- CHANGE YOUR THINKING. Try to find opportunity out of adversity by framing situations or circumstances as a challenge rather than a threat. Give greater emphasis to the things that are most important in your life (family, relationships and self). Watch out for distorted thinking patterns such as the tendency to see things in all or nothing terms, an overly negative focus, or catastrophising. For further information on the relationship between thoughts and emotions read “Feeling good: The new mood therapy” by David Burns.
- SUPPORT AND COMMUNICATION. Talking with your healthcare professionals, friends or partner can be an important release and help buffer the effects of stress.
- LIVE A BALANCED LIFE. Find a balance between work, family, recreation, friends, physical activity, rest and alone time.