Stress: What It Is and What It Does

Young man with hand on his head looking at computer in a stressful wayStress is a physical, mental, and emotional response to our perceptions about  experiences in our environment. This response is automatic and we are constantly being exposed to it. Physically, it redirects our blood flow, causes changes to our immune function, and hormones, digestion, and basically prepares us for what is termed “fight or flight”. Which means our bodies and our minds are taking a split second to decide if we should attack or run away from a situation that triggers this response.

There is acute stress, which is something that is happening now, and chronic stress which is ongoing. The stress response is meant to be a healthy reaction to acute stress, it helps us get through it and then we are supposed to go back to a normal balance. However, what happens is that in this time in history, and in this society that we live in we are exposed to over 55 stressors a day. This means our stress response never really has a chance to stop and give our bodies that reset period it needs to be healthy. Instead of being something that is supposed to help us get through and reset us, it turns into a cascade of chemicals that actually start damaging the body and mind. Over time, sustaining high levels of these chemicals, as many of us do, creates worse and worse diseases. For example, a body may start with some digestive discomfort here and there after eating, however if that is not attended to and stress levels are not decreased that discomfort could explode into a bacteria or food allergy, even an autoimmune disorder.

What does it do to our bodies:

Here are just a few outcomes of chronic stress.

  • Insulin resistance – This is where your body has issues regulating blood sugar and can begin the downward spiral to diabetes or metabolic disorder.
  • Cardiovascular disease – The number one leading cause of death in America. This involves any heart, artery, venous, circulatory, and blood pressure issues.
  • Promotes fat deposits – Stress hormones tell your body to store fat. How do you lose weight or keep it off if you are in a perpetual cycle of stress?
  • Increase risk of tumor/infection – Due to reduction in immune response, your body doesn’t have the resources it needs where it needs them and you become prone to disease of all kinds.
  • Decrease ability to use glucose – This stimulates cravings for sweets. Your brain utilizes the most sugar in your body or a specific type of sugar known as glucose. When you are under stress and your brain wants more blood flow and oxygenation it will tell your body to feed itself and that translates into a sugar craving. You can then see how it is easier to head toward insulin resistance.
  • Can lead to stroke – Enough said.
  • Depression

How to tell if you are stressed:

Do you experience?

  • Being tired or fatigued often
  • Nervous/anxious/depressed
  • Sleep issues
  • Repetitive headaches/aches/pains
  • Worry about job security/finances/relationships

Coping mechanisms for stress can be healthy or unhealthy. How do you cope? Are your coping strategies healthy and assist you in regaining a balance in or your life, or do they focus on avoidance and keep in you the cycle of stress?

Unhealthy Coping Strategies:

  • Stress eating
  • Avoiding emotions/shutting down
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Overthinking
  • Playing games on electronics
  • Smoking
  • Overeating

Healthy Coping Strategies:

  • Exercise
  • Eating healthy/nurturing foods
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness
  • Addressing emotional issues and situations

These lists are incomplete, can you think of things in your life that benefit you or hold you back?

Knowing your stressors is a large part of dealing with them. Once you can identify them you have something to work with. Keep in mind unresolved and untended emotions can be a large part of stress as well. Being around negativity can perpetuate and increase the level of stress that you experience. Think about how this translates into your life. What is your work environment like? Your home life? Do you have time to do things for yourself?

Many times there are things that create stress that we are not even aware of, like electronics, noise, environmental toxins, etc. Also, how we deal with stress varies from person to person and between male and female due to how our brains are wired.

If we have peeked your interest about stress you can learn more on our podcast, Stress: New Perspectives on an Old Issue, or by contacting us directly to see how we can help you. Stay tuned next week for the follow up, what you can do to deal with stress and give yourself a happier and healthier life. If you can’t wait for next week you can listen to our podcast about Stress: Kicking the Habit, which will give you tools you need to start today.