Stress and What it does to our bodies:
Im sure we’ve all heard at this point, that stress is bad for your health, but how many really know exactly HOW bad it is, and why? With the holidays coming up, I thought now would be a good time to discuss some of the far reaching effects of stress, as well as some ways to reduce it. This going to involve a little bit of science, as stress wreaks it’s havoc on the body through the endocrine system, which is our control center for hormone production. I have always been fascinated by the intricate and wide spread function of the endocrine system, ranging from adrenaline production, to mood stability, to metabolic rate, and much more.
Let me first start with a quick explanation of the nervous system. It has two divisions: the sympathetic, and the parasympathetic. The parasympathetic is our involuntary nervous system, which controls functions like the heart beating, digestion, bold flow, etc. This is the state we are in when our body is at rest, and we don't have to think about the functions it performs.
The sympathetic nervous system is the exact opposite. It’s in charge of our “fight or flight” response, which is notified when we perceive a threat. It releases adrenaline and cortisol, heightening our senses, and basically putting us in survival mode. We can see, feel, and hear better,as well as experience an increase in strength and cardiovascular endurance. This is a very good thing, when the situation calls for it, but can be a bad thing, when it is prolonged over periods of time. Unfortunately, many of us tend to live in a mild version of “fight or flight”, mode, due to the fast paced and demanding lives we lead. The reason this is a problem, is because when our bodies feel stress, they increase cortisol production, as i mentioned before, which is supposed to enhance our ability to handle danger, but actually prevents our body from producing other hormones we need, such as testosterone, estrogen, dopamine, and many more.
Now you see why this spike in cortisol is ok for short periods of time, but wreaks havoc when it persists for days, weeks, or months on end. If we go for too long without producing the other hormones we need, it creates a domino effect on the other systems in the body. Living organisms are so complex and intricate, that every organ and hormone in the body is connected in some way, and when we damage one, it is only a matter of time before the rest follow.
If that wasn’t enough motivation to reduce stress, another side effect is stored fat. The reason for this, is that when the body thinks it’s under attack, one of it’s primal instincts is to hold on to nutrients, and store them for future energy, in case it doesn't get them again for a long time. Obviously this is not the case in today’s world, but our bodies don't know the difference between types of stress, they only know how to survive. Our ancestors lived in a completely different world than we do, where maybe they didn’t know when or where the next meal was coming from. Running away from a lion or bear, and then storing whatever food they ate, wasn’t a problem, especially because they would burn it off anyway.
So times have changed dramatically, yet our body’s tendencies remain the same through generations. What is the answer? Well, as much as I wish I held the secret to eliminating stress in everyday life, I don’t have a fool proof solution for you. I’m still learning new things everyday, and I will always have a long way to go. I do however, spend lots of time researching, and have several ideas which can help to reduce stress, and restore peace and longevity to life. Here are a few of them:
- Practice gratitude. Easy to do on good days, but not so easy on the bad ones right? Thats ok, choose to think about the things you have to be thankful for, even when you don’t feel it, and over time, you will notice little changes that add up!!
Find something that motivates you. Whether it’s a hobby, a person, a career opportunity, or planning for the future, believe me when I say that those who feel passionate about something are able to handle life’s little curve balls better than those who don’t.
Exercise!! Seriously. The best stress relief around. Under utilized and it’s free. So whatever you enjoy doing, just get your body moving, get that heart rate up, and try to tell me you don’t feel better afterwards!
Take some time for yourself. Each day, you should set aside an hour to do whatever it is that makes you feel at peace. Preferable something that helps you relax, like yoga, playing an instrument, reading, etc. But don't let me tell you what it has to be; you know what works best for you.
Surround yourself with positive people. Obviously this is not always in our control, but you can choose who you spend your free time with, so make sure it’s with people who lift you up, and are happy about life. Also remember, you have the ability to be that person for others as well, so even if you spend time with negative people, BE the positive energy in the room, and maybe you’ll be surprised at the effect it has on others.
Treat your body like a temple. Even if it doesn't feel like it, your body is an amazing thing. If you want it to feel strong, you have to take care of it. Increase nutrient rich, whole foods, especially proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. Here are a few example of each:
- Proteins: Chicken, turkey, eggs, fish, ground beef, cheese, yogurt (be sure to look for low sugar content), clean protein powder, etc. (Organic is best in all cases).
- Fats: Avocado, nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts, cashews, etc., seeds (flaxseeds, chia seeds, seseme seeds, sunflower, pumpkin, etc., coconut oil, and olive oil to name a few, again, go with organic if possible).
- Carbohydrates: Sweet potatoes, yams, quinoa, brown rice, beans, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
- Herbs and spices like ginger, garlic, tumeric, cumin, curry, cilantro, basil, etc.
Reduce the bad stuff :( This includes caffeine, alcohol, refined, processed, packaged foods, and most importantly, SUGAR!! Sugar has the worst effect on our stress response because it spikes blood sugar, (much like cortisol does), and then allows it to drop down, even lower than it was before, causing mood swings, irritability, fatigue, and fat storage.
For additional support, there are many natural supplements you may find helpful. Some of these include: Eluthero root, ashwaghanda, licorice root, rhodiola, maca, and prickly ash bark, to name a few. All of these are plant roots, and can be used in the form of tea, capsules, tinctures, or sprays. You can also find blends with many of them all in one. Try looking under “adrenal support” in any health food store.
1/2 cup Green Tea, chilled or room temp. (substitute Nettles Tea)
1/2 cup Milk (coconut, almond, flax, or organic cows milk)
1/2 Medium Banana
1/2 cup Blueberries
1/2 tbsp Maca (add more if acclimated)
1/2 tsp Ginger Spice or fresh Ginger, grated
A dash of Celtic Sea Salt
1/2 tbsp Honey to sweeten (substitute Maple Syrup or Stevia)