Stress is a topic near and dear to my heart as I personally have felt the effects of living a life dominated by chronic stress. The strange thing is I didn’t even know I was living under chronic stress. Sure, I had some stress (who doesn’t, right?) but never did I realize I had that much stress!
Looking back I realized my new level of stress just became my new ‘norm.’ It wasn’t until I started having digestive issues, anxiety, and depression that I realized I had been living under chronic stress for years!
Because I experienced first hand the impact chronic stress can have on my own health and wellbeing, I’m on a mission to make sure you never go through the same issues!
That’s why I’m spending time in this post educating you on the physiology of stress. I’m a firm believer that when you know better, you do better. Right?
Explaining the physiology of stress is best done by looking at situations we face every day. Take, for example, these scenarios:
- Hurrying from one meeting to another
- Stress from work deadlines
- An ill child or an ailing parent
- Getting children up and ready for school every morning
- Commuting to work through rush hour
- Losing your keys and realizing it only minutes before you need to walk out the door
Can you relate with any of these scenarios? Most of us experience one or many of these situations on a daily basis. While all of them are minor, our brain views them as a stressor, nonetheless.
When this happens, our body responds by activating the sympathetic nervous system. The adrenal glands, which are responsible for controlling your bodies response to stress, also releases stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. These hormones are responsible for preparing the body to ‘fight or flight’ by increasing our blood sugar, heart rate, and blood pressure, slowing our digestion, dilating our pupils, and redirecting blood flow to the extremities.
Unlike the prehistoric times when we had to quite literally be prepared to fight or flee from predator danger, our modern day stressors provide the same adrenaline rush but for more daily hassles, such as the scenarios described above.
Furthermore, unlike decades ago when the adrenaline ‘fight or flight’ response was short-lived, today’s stress is often prolonged for hours, days, weeks, and possibly even months and years.
The end result is chronic stress hormones circulating through our system, resulting in overstimulation and a weakening of the adrenal glands. Eventually, this overstimulation will result in physical and mental illness and disease.
To help combat the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system and thus the impact of our health, it is essential we find ways to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for bringing the body back to homeostasis.
Without consistent activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, you risk stress impacting your wellbeing. This impact affects your physical and mental health, including a decrease in immunity, an increase in blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and digestive issues. Mentally, prolonged stress can affect your wellbeing by increasing your anxiety and depression.
The older I get the more I realize that there is no certainty in life. But, there is one thing that is for certain; if you don’t take time each day to counter the stress in your life, you too will begin to see illness and disease.
Here is the good news. We have control over getting our body into a parasympathetic state. Next week I will begin to introduce some ways to cope with stress that will activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Daily activation of this system will counter the long-term impact stress can have on our lives.
If you feel like you are running on the hamster wheel of life and can’t get off, connect with me! Life is too short to live it stressed out, exhausted, and weary! God never intended for us to live a life like this. There is a better way. Let me help you walk your journey back to living a life filled with energy, joy, and passion.
Yours in Health and Wellness,