17 Apr Is Stress Destroying Your Health?
Do you ever feel like life is just one endless to-do list and you’re always one step behind? Are you so used to stress that you’ve accepted it as “normal”?
Now let me ask you a different set of questions.
- Is getting a good night’s sleep nearly impossible these days?
- Do you struggle to lose weight despite eating well and exercising?
- Do you find yourself constantly fighting off illness or do you seem to always catch everyone’s colds?
- Are you feeling unhappy, unmotivated or just not like yourself?
- Are you feeling more aches and pains as time goes on?
It’s likely not a coincidence. Stress is linked to 95% of all illness and disease including diabetes, cancer and depression. It can cause everything from weight gain to physical pain, hair loss, insomnia, unhappiness and lack of motivation.
Why aren’t we taking stress seriously if it causes or worsens nearly ALL of our health woes? And what can we do to help ourselves feel better and protect our most important asset- our health and sanity?
Stress and the Mind Body Connection: What You Need to Know!
Have you ever been driving along, minding your own business when all of a sudden, the car in front of you stops short? Think about what happens to you physically in that situation- you are instantly alert, your muscles tense and your foot slams on the break. You likely perspire. Your heart races and it feels like its lodged in your throat. If you’re anything like me, you get a creepy little chill up the back of your spine. It’s difficult to even catch your breath.
But let’s say you narrowly avoid the collision thanks to your quick foot work. And despite the fact that you’re no longer in danger, your heart is still racing and it takes a while to calm down.
This is the mind body connection. Your mind detects stress or danger and your body instantly reacts in all sorts of ways including perspiring, heart racing, muscle tension and chills.
Let me give you a personal example. I used to work at a night club in college. One cold winter morning, I was driving home at 3 am from work and got lost in a bad area (this is before we had GPS and built in maps on our phones.) I instantly panicked and sort of just stopped my car in the middle of a desolate road, contemplating how the hell I was going to get home.
Out of nowhere a seemingly helpful guy appeared on the side walk and signaled to me, “are you lost?” In my state of panic, while clearly not thinking straight, I rolled down my window and said, “yup!”. Terrible idea, I know.
As he gave me directions home, I hadn’t noticed he was inching his way closer and closer to my car. Until I did. And all I could think was: Shit! I thanked him quickly hoping he really was just a friendly stranger, but he reached for my door handle and tried to get in my car. AND I FUCKING PANICKED. As my heart was in my throat, I stepped on the gas with all my might, almost running the guy over. I was shaking the entire way home and could barely sleep that night, wondering just what could have happened had I not reacted so quickly.
Again, mind body connection. My mind detected a threat and my body instantly reacted and continued to react (shaking, couldn’t sleep) the entire night.
THIS is the fight or flight response.
Fight or flight is your body’s built in survival system to protect you from danger and prepare you to either run for your life or fight for your life! Here’s how it works. The mind detects fear or a stressor, and your body instantly reacts. You don’t have to ask your body to perform this way and save you- it just knows what to do and how FAST. Your heart rate increases to pump blood throughout your body. Muscles tense to prepare you to run or fight. Glucose (sugar) floods your body in case you need energy to run or fight. Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline pump through your veins. Your pupils dilate to take in the danger around you. And the chill you get? That’s your blood being rerouted from your skin to your muscles in case you have to run or fight for your life.
So, what does any of this have to do with EVERY DAY STRESS?
Stressors like paying the bills, getting to work on time, your kid’s behavior or grades, that guy/ girl that you really liked who hasn’t called you back, your boss, your weight, where you are going in life, traffic?
The answer? Everything.
Get this. Your body reacts the same to every day stressors as it does to the big ones, like when you’re in danger. Meaning feeling alone or worrying about finances triggers the same crazy responses in your body as it would if you were running from a maniac or slamming on your breaks narrowly avoiding a car accident. Your body doesn’t know the difference. Your mind detects fear or stress, you instantly go into fight or flight and your body reacts.
If you are in chronic stress mode that means you’re constantly in fight or flight!
And the impact on your health can be devastating. Your blood pressure and heart rate are always high, stressing your heart. Tense muscles lead to pain and inflammation. Thanks to glucose (sugar) that you don’t need flooding your system, you’re gaining weight gain and increasing your likelihood of getting Type 2 Diabetes. Your stomach is in knots, derailing your digestive system. Stress hormones are wreaking havoc in your body making it nearly impossible to deal with every day tasks in a positive manner. Sleep is poor or non-existent (you’re on high alert remember!) Got belly fat? You can thank all of those stress hormones. And all of that inflammation? It’s linked to scary diseases like cancer.
And that’s not all. When you’re in fight or flight mode, all of your bodily functions that keep you healthy sort of just stop. Essentially, if a function isn’t critical to helping you run or fight for your life, your body decides it’s not important and it falls by the wayside.
For example, when stressed, digestion sucks and you might struggle with constipation or diarrhea. Your metabolism stops working the way it should and you may gain weight. You get sick a lot because your immunity shuts down. You have a hard time concentrating. Sleep is nearly impossible. You might feel down or just not like yourself. Even things like your natural hair growth cycle go haywire. And healing from injury, disease or illness? Nope. Your body isn’t doing its natural healing work either because it is too laser focused on your STRESS.
Whether it’s that paper due for the class you’re taking, paying the bills or that fight with your significant other, it doesn’t matter…your body essentially thinks that you’re in danger and reacts accordingly.
Most of us are living in Fight or Flight Every. Single. Day.
One of the most impactful areas of health that I can teach is this very powerful mind body connection, because once you understand the impact and can connect the dots from stressors to your health challenges, it’s a game changer.
Trust me, I’ve been there.
I used to thrive on stress. It made me feel important running from client to client and checking off my to do list. Somewhere along the way I convinced myself that the more I worried, the less bad shit could really happen. And man, did I worry. About everything! My health, relationships, business, family, weight, my looks. Where I was going in life. Whether I would ever catch up with my friends and everything they had in life. Whether I would end up alone. Sound familiar?
My skewed perception of how my life “should” be coupled with my inability to manage my stress was literally killing me. It wasn’t until I learned about the mind body connection and how to de-stress that I got truly healthy from the inside out.
What Can You Do to Lower Your Stress and Save Your Health?
THIS is what I want to address in my next blog; real life, clinically proven and easy ways to de-stress every day. Small changes that can have a massive impact in how you feel, perform and live every single day of your life. So, stay tuned.
And what do you think about the impact of stress? Can you relate to any of these symptoms? Let me know in the comments!