Wellness

Stress on Overdrive and Our Bodies

 Back in the centuries where populations of hunter-gatherers were prevalent, people relied on their body’s ability to be stressed to keep them safe.

For example, when in danger of a predator, a hunter-gatherer would experience the “flight or fight” response, which is the body’s physiological ability to adapt for survival. Talk about a time you’re happy to feel stressed.

Funny enough, although our society has radically shifted since those days, our physiological response to stress is relatively the same. However, the one thing that has completely changed with the modernization of society is our perception of stress. Rather than our ancestor’s stress occurring as a reaction to a dangerous situation, a lot of the things that drive us to be stressed are not even tangible. Things like social media and the fear of missing out, our personal ideas of success, money we haven’t made yet, the list goes on.

If stress is something you blow off as a “yeah, yeah when this changes I’ll be less stressed,” then this is for you. Prolonged stress isn’t good, and we’ll explain why, but keep our tips in mind so you can not only experience the freedom of being stress free, but you’ll be healthier, too.

 

Mental Sharpness

When something threatens your safety there’s little time to think, which is why part of the flight-or-fight response is laser sharp mental focus. Your brain takes over and drives you to power through until you’re safe. This is a helpful response when you’re being chased by something like a bear, but in reality, it’s more likely that deadlines at work and to-do list items are what chase you down in everyday life.

Your brain is what alerts all of the other parts of the body to react to stress, so when the perception of stress is constant your brain continues to send messages to the nervous system to secrete hormones such as adrenaline. With your brain in constant overdrive you increase your susceptibility to depression, sleep disorders, loss of memory and anxiety.

Hormone Secretions

During a stressful event your nervous system sends signals to release adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline provides your blood with extra oxygen to make breathing easier, regulates your heartbeat and causes your heart rate to rise. Well, as you can guess, with a consistently high heart rate cardiac and blood pressure issues can develop over time.

Cortisol production in the body serves the purpose of preparing the body for an emergency, but it also works to return the body to a state of equilibrium once danger is over. Cortisol also acts in shutting down the immune system during stress. The prolonged effects of excessive cortisol production is increased risk of diabetes, change in metabolism resulting in weight gain, and a suppressed immune system leaving you more susceptible to sickness and infections.

Varied Body Rhythms

The majority of the stress response is designed like a switch so we can overcome parts of our bodily processes that are not ideal when we are fighting for survival. One example of this is digestion; it would be pretty inconvenient if you felt the need to go to the bathroom while running for your life. Additionally the continued release of cortisol inhibits the body’s main sex hormone, gonadotropin-releasing hormone.

Therefore continued stress can lead to digestive disorders as well as reproductive and fertility issues such as suppressed sperm count, ovulation and sexual activity.

Putting up a Fight

If these symptoms of stress fit you to a tee, it’s time to make some changes. Thankfully most of our stress is just as easy to ward off as it is to let it get to you. For example, spending less time on the computer and in front of the television will have a huge impact. To decrease stress as well as keep it at bay, give yourself time each day to think of absolutely nothing. Some might call this meditating, but if that word intimidates you, think of it as time to just zone out. No thoughts, just brain rest.

Another way to decrease stress is through exercise. Getting your blood pumping is proven to release tension as well as endorphins leaving you with lower anxiety and a more positive outlook. Cardio is a great way to have all your muscles working to break a sweat, while a workout like yoga is ideal for a combination of work for the body and rest for the mind.

Another shocking way to combat stress (sarcasm) is to eat healthy. Having a small meal that contains protein every two to three hours will ensure your blood sugar levels stay stable, which is a big factor in keeping your brain functioning at full capacity. Not to mention, the increased energy you get from consuming whole, good-for-you foods will have you feeling on top of your game.

 

Now that you’ve had a closer look at what you’re putting your body through with continual stress doesn’t it make you feel a little…stressed? This just goes to show how much of a viscous cycle stress has become!

The only way to break it is to make the conscious choice to live life in a way that minimizes stress through daily action. This could mean a variety of things including seeking out professional help to cope with stressful life events or relationships.

Now we don’t know about you, but we’re logging off for the day. Time to get some non-screen time and fresh air, even for ten minutes. Unlike many other things in life, taking action to release stress is pretty much instant gratification. Go give it a try and report back.

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Elle Michels

Elle Michels

Based in Washington, D.C., Elle Michels is a contributing writer to Womenshealth.com.

1 Comment

  1. August 21, 2014 at 5:48 pm — Reply

    […] people develop HBP due to constant stress, which is a whole other issue entirely, but little actions to reduce stress caused by daily occurrences, or triggers, can make a huge […]

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