What does stress really do to us?
Did you know that it's been scientifically proven:
Around 33% of people report feeling extreme stress
77% of people experience stress that affects negatively their physical health
73% of people have stress that impacts their mental health
48% of people have trouble sleeping as a result of stress
Stress is all too common today and the physical and mental impact can be devastating.
Research from Dr Bruce Lipton of Stanford University proves that up to 90% of all sickness is caused by stress.
What is stress?
Stress is a human reaction that happens to everyone and is completely normal. Our body is designed to experience and react to it.
Stress responses help our body to adjust to new situations and can be positive by keeping us alert, motivated and ready to avoid danger. But stress becomes a problem when it continues without relief or substantial periods of relaxation.
What happens to the body during stress?
Stress leads to release of hormones called cortisol and epinephrine that mobilise stored energy and increase heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. At the same time, secondary functions like digestive, reproductive and immune systems are temporarily shut down. This prepares the body for “fight-or-flight response” and helps it face stressful situations.
What are the consequences of stress?
Long term exposure to stress or inability to reduce the stress leads to a continued activation of the stress response described above and that causes wear and tear on the body.
Let’s look at the dangers of prolonged high cortisol (“stress hormone”) levels in the body.
Cortisol is one of the steroid hormones, which is made in the adrenal glands. Most of our cells in the body have cortisol receptors. This means that cortisol has many different functions like helping control blood sugar levels and salt and water balance, blood pressure, regulate metabolism, help reduce inflammation, and assist with memory formulation. It also supports the developing foetus during pregnancy.
All of the above functions make cortisol an important hormone to protect our overall health and well-being.
What happens when stress triggers high cortisol levels over a prolonged period?
Below are just few examples of issues associated with high levels of cortisol:
Cushing syndrome is characterised by high levels of cortisol in the blood, which may result in weight gain, osteoporosis, weak muscles, high blood pressure, kidney stones, acne, decreased fertility and mood swings just to name a few.
High cortisol levels can affect woman's libido and menstrual cycle.
Anxiety and depression are linked to high cortisol levels.
Studies have also been carried out to show that stress could affect motor coordination and cognitive functions like memory, learning ability, reasoning etc.
Researchers from Dr Klaus Hansen’s group at BRIC, University of Copenhagen, have shown that external factors can stress our cells in the body through control of our genes.
They found that stress activating factors can control our genes by turning some genes on that are supposed to be off. For normal development of a baby and functioning of a human, certain genes have to remain as nature has designed them to be. Even brief changes in gene activation can have detrimental impact on the development of the baby and their correct cellular identity.
So how do you know you need help with managing stress?
If experience any of the following physical, mental and behavioural symptoms, you may need help managing stress (the list is not exhaustive):
Headaches, dizziness or shaking
Muscle tension/ jaw clenching
High blood pressure
Weak immune system/feeling run down
Too much drinking/gambling
Overeating/having an eating disorder
Smoking/taking drugs and compulsive sex
How can you reduce stress?
Firstly, try to identify it. What are it’s origins and cause? See if you can change your behaviour/your reaction or remove stressors.
Seek external help from family, friends or mental health professionals to help you better understand what is causing stress and trouble shoot.
Look at your values and what is causing an internal conflict when you find yourself in a stressful situation.
Incorporate regular exercise into your routine.
Take time out for yourself, relax and do things that give you pleasure.
Reduce intake of stimulants like coffee, energy drinks and tea if you feel they increase your anxiety levels.
Talk to friends, family or a mental health professional to share you feelings and thoughts.
Write your thoughts and feelings down to get them out if you cannot have a chat about them with someone else.
Socialise and laugh more often. Look for joyful moments in life.
Don’t procrastinate and don't get stuck in your head. Focus on your feelings and intercede negative thoughts as quickly as possible.
Don’t say yes to everyone and everything just to keep peace and appear to be accommodating. Learn to be comfortable with saying no.
Meditate and practice deep breathing when feeling anxious or stressed.
I hope you found my article helpful and best of luck on your journey to reducing stress and creating a life you want. You owe it to yourself to create a happy life and grow!
If you need help with stress or any other challenge you may be facing, feel free to reach out to me here. I would be delighted to help you!