Tensions are high in our country right now. Across the board I am seeing higher stress levels. So, I want to talk about stress. What is it? How can it effect your body? Why does it need to be addressed? How can it be mitigated?
When a stressful event occurs our bodies pump out three main hormones. Epinephrine and Norephinephrine (aka adrenaline and noradrenaline), and cortisol. Our epinephrine and norephinephrine are sent out immediately, within seconds, so that if we are truly in danger, we can get our bodies moving fast to get out of the situation. Cue racing heart, increased respiration, heightened senses, and a shut down of nonessential functions (digestion, immunity, sex hormone production). Then cortisol elevates over the next few minutes to allow for a sustained response. Great! You were able to get yourself out of a dangerous situation. . . but not so great if the external stress that caused these hormones to rise is ever present. Bills to pay, a high-pressure job, endless tasks at home, taking care of kids, or fear of an uncertain political and social climate.
When these hormones remain elevated, there is a disruption in the body’s balance between sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous systems. This leads to insomnia, digestive issues (IBS etc), anxiety, depression, headaches, difficulty concentrating, musculoskeletal tension/pain, and irritability. Long term activation of the sympathetic nervous system then leads to chronic health conditions as the body is not able to properly repair. One of the first things I work with patients on is to help manage stress and support their stress response system.
This could mean nervine herbs (herbs that help calm the nervous system), adaptogenic herbs (herbs that help the body adapt to stress), or it could mean vitamins or minerals that target the stress response system and help relax the body. This could also mean meditation, deep breathing, exercise, or diet changes (including slowing down how quickly we eat). No matter the individual protocol, calming down a person’s stress response system, or building it back up if they are exhausted, is step number one in restoring balance to their body. This in turn allows the body to start healing from health crises, from headaches to digestive issues, from diabetes to chronic pain. This does not mean that a chronic condition doesn’t have other factors contributing. We often still need to co-treat for pain, digestion, diabetes, anxiety, or depression. It simply means that uncontrolled stress can lead to chronic health conditions.
You can help decrease your stress today. Start by looking at the stress in your life. Some of it is unavoidable, but there are steps that can be taken to mitigate stress. Say no to that gathering you don’t really want to go to. Go to bed an hour earlier instead of watching that show. Turn off the news. Let your laundry pile up to give yourself some free time. Smile more. Laugh more. Dance more. Do anything that makes you happy more. Start a meditation practice. Express gratitude.
Decreasing stress starts with taking a look at your daily habits. Think about where you can make a small change to lighten your load and give to yourself.