STRESS MANAGEMENT AND SELF CARE
Stress – we deal with it on a regular basis and hear about it all the time. It’s in the news. We read about it in magazines and see it talked about online. Your doctor may even have talked to you about controlling your stress. But, is it really a such a big deal?
So what is stress anyway? The Miriam Webster dictionary defines stress as “a physical, chemical or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation.”
I was actually pleasantly surprised to find that this definition included the less obvious result of stress, which can, in fact, be disease. Not that I’m happy about stress causing disease, but I think most people don’t realize the huge impact it can have on our health. The definition went on to show examples of using the word ‘stress’ in a sentence, which was also appropriate for this session. “Hormones are released into the body in response to emotional stress.”
So, as you probably guessed, the answer to the question “Is stress a big deal?” is “Yes” – IF you care about your health.
HERE IS WHAT HAPPENS
“When you encounter a perceived threat – a large dog barks at you during your morning walk, for instance – your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.
Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear.
The long-term activation of the stress-response system – and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones – can disrupt almost all your body’s processes”
– Mayo Clinic
HERE IS THE RISKS
The long-term activation of the stress-response system – and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones – can disrupt almost all your body’s processes.
This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment
Source: Mayo Clinic
OTHER NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF CHRONIC STRESS
- nutrient deficiencies as a result of decreased nutrient absorption
- reduced gut flora (the ‘good’ bacteria)
- increased levels of cortisol (which can inhibit weight loss)
- lowering metabolism and increasing fat storage
- increased oxidative stress (which causes premature aging)
The resulting hormonal imbalances (involving cortisol and insulin, in particular) and chronic low-grade inflammation can set the stage for the development of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer, and other chronic diseases. Chronic stress can also make you more susceptible to colds, flus and other infections. And physical stress disrupts physiological homeostasis in a number of ways (including the hormonal and inflammatory pathways) that may affect your energy level in an adverse way.
The effects of stress can also affect your state of mind, impairing your working memory and your ability to control your impulses. It also increases the risk of anxiety and depression. In addition, unbridled stress can sap your energy and undermine your motivation and resolve to make or stick with healthy lifestyle changes.
In fact, research from the University of California, San Francisco,
found that people who reported higher levels of stress had a greater drive to eat,
including disinhibited eating, binge eating, hunger,
more ineffective attempts to control their eating, all of which can promote weight gain.
Source: Dr. David Katz, Author, Disease-Proof
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