How Mental Stress Impacts Us
Stress…. It is so prevalent in todays world. We ALL have it to some degree. From work, to home life, to finances, to the to do list, to health issues, to sick kids, to traveling, to what is going on in the world….. It never seems to really stop.
Unfortunately we don’t really know how to avoid it. Some of it is inevitable, but some is brought on simply by ourselves. Even if we don’t want to admit it.
I don’t want to bore you with an overloaded statistic filled post today, so were going to focus on three main points -
1- Stress DOES cause inflammation within our bodies
2 - It does make us sick
3 - We have to learn to control it, which can be done with some simple exercises
I think most of us know what stress is, but just in case, the actual definition is that it is essentially our bodies natural reaction to any change that requires us to adjust or respond. It can fall into a lot of categories, from physical, mental, emotional, etc.
In regards to inflammation, stress (be it chronic stress) can lead to an increase in inflammatory responses within our immune system.. As a little reminder (you can read more in my previous blogs on inflammation to catch up - weight gain, hydration, skin care)
Just like stress, inflammation is a natural response from our immune system when something unnatural occurs. In this article we are focusing on the mental and emotional side of stress. The physical will come in a few weeks.
To break it down - After we experience a stress mentally or emotionally for a period of time our cortisol levels rise, and stay elevated. When they stay high for too long it messes with hormone production and how we metabolize things. Our body essentially thinks it needs to be “turned on / fight or flight” all the time, and because our bodies are amazing at adapting, the come to believe this as our new normal. Unfortunately this leads to inflammation throughout us which can eventually lead to illness, etc. You can read more on that here.
Emotional Stress happens because of our feelings or situations we encounter. Unfair things in life are going to happen and we absolutely should have feelings, but when we are in a constant state of fight or flight as mentioned previously, with our stress hormones elevated (adrenaline and cortisol), it is going to screw us up! It is going to trick our body into thinking it needs to constantly release these stressors because there is constantly something wrong, and by doing so we get inflammed, we hold water, we mess with our metabolism function, we can’t sleep because our circadian rythm gets thrown off. The list goes on.
This leads me to point number two - it makes us sick. Stop and think for a moment when you have had a stressful time in your life, or when you are overly anxious about something. Does your stomach ever hurt or get butterflies? Or get that gut feeling when something big is about to happen or after something bad does? That isn’t just a coincidence. There isn’t a coincidence, there is a connection. (This article may help you understand it a little more if you want to go deeper -The Gut Brain Connection. ) But what about auto immune conditions like RA (I can attest to this) or hashimotos or migranes even? Having this fight or flight response causes our immune system to not function properly and inflammatory markers can in turn rise. An overload of this dependent on certain genes, etc things can get “turned on” and then our immune system goes after certain parts of our body, thinking it needs to attack. (in the case with RA our joints). Or what about something as extreme as a stroke or heart attack? I am pretty sure we have heard of stress causing those at times right?? Heightened and Chronic Emotional Stress needs to be controlled. We have to learn ways to help ourselves decompress.
And point #3- here is how-
First deep breathe. It sounds so simple…. But its not. The link below will help you if you are not familiar. But basically Deep Breathing is something that helps us calm down. When we breathe deep through our diaphragm and do slow breaths in and out it can turn on our parasympathetic nervous system (which helps us relax) and turn down our sympathetic nervous system (which controls fight or flight). So our cortisol and stress levels decrease, our blood pressure can decrease, we feel a peace within us…. and after really practicing this, it can decrease stress induced inflammation. Studies show it can help improve our immune function over time. Taking just 5 minutes a day to do this for yourself can make a big difference. You need to make sure you are doing it properly though - check out my video for more.
The next thing we need to practice is……learning to say no. No this isn’t a joke. We have to prioritize what is important , we have to make time for ourselves too. Saying no is something that doesn’t always come easy, myself included. However, saying yes to everything causes stress and overloaded schedules and no time to decompress.
Here are some simple tips, make a list of the stuff you have to get done that is a priority, if something else pops up that isn’t involved or life or death simply say no. I promise over thinking the other persons response is not worth our time either. If you really feel bad then simply ask for a rain check if possible, and if it is something you really want to do… then do it! If it is something that will improve your mindset or “spark joy” (had to) … then do it!
Then here we are at the third thing… Get sleep! I am going to go into this more next week but aim to get as much as possible. Minimum of 7 hours a night. Turn off your phone and do not check it anymore within an hour of going to bed. Let your mind and body decompress. Take a bath, relax, read a book. Take time to turn your mind off of your to do list.
Working with someone who is a professional can also help. There is absolutely nothing wrong with speaking to a counselor or therapist who can help you balance your thoughts and get life in line for you. They have jobs for a reason. Find someone you can speak to and trust. Listen to their advice and try to act on it.
To wrap it up, we need to learn to take more time for ourselves. It is the most important thing we can do. Really try to pay attention to what is triggering stress and trying to think before reacting. Taking a minute to deep breathe and focus on what is really important with what is going on. We are made to handle a lot, however if we do not take care of ourselves then we will not be able to do “all the things” either ;). Stay tuned for a program that will help decrease this stress, help you reach your fitness goals and help you eat better, so you feel better, look better and live better!