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: