What is Stress?
To start off its important to understand that some stress is good for us!
It motivates us to fight or run away from a bear, or to get that project finished within the deadline.
It stimulates the want for change – when the kids are killing each other in the back of the car it motivates us to deal with the situation.
Depending on your own opinion (even the professionals cannot agree!) stress is triggered by 1 of 2 things:
- Situations and/or events that put pressure on us – for instance having lots to do or think about or things we have little or no control over.
- Our reaction to being placed under pressure – the feeling we get when we have demands placed on us that we find difficult to cope with.
Within your body, stress triggers your fight or flight response.
Your hypothalamus in your brain produces a signal which is sent to your pituitary gland which in turn produces a signal that is sent to your adrenal gland (The HPA Axis).
Your adrenal gland then releases hormones, particularly Cortisol and Adrenaline which cause changes in your physiological systems to prepare your body to run away or fight that bear!
What do Cortisol & Adrenaline do to our body?
The release of Cortisol and Adrenaline has numerous effects on your body including:
- An increase in your heart rate – by causing blood vessels to constrict so more oxygen can be diverted to muscles so you are ready to take action.
- Energy is released from the liver – in the form of glucose to ensure you have plenty of energy for the muscles. It also slows the digestive system and reproductive system to allow more energy to be sent where it is needed most.
- The Immune System is fired up – your defence against infectious diseases and your healing power if you are injured during the threat.
In a healthy body, when the threat or stress is removed, your body naturally decreases the rate of cortisol and adrenaline production. Your Heart Rate returns to normal. Your Digestive and Reproductive systems are de-activated and your immune system returns to normal.
But what happens when we are stressed for prolonged periods of time?
This is where it becomes a problem. Chronic stress causes many side effects including:
- Digestive problems – while cortisol is in your system your body will continue to slow down your digestion. The production of Hydrochloric Acid (stomach acid) is also reduced which can leave you with indigestion or reflux issues.
- High Blood Pressure – while cortisol is in your system your blood vessels remain constricted. Chronic stress can lead to chronic High Blood Pressure. This is in turn leaves you more susceptible to Heart Disease and Stroke.
- High Blood Sugar Levels – while cortisol is in your system your blood sugar levels remain high as your liver continues to release glucose. If this continues over long periods of time this can lead to cellular insulin resistance and diabetes.
- Immune system – while cortisol is in your system your immune system remains fired up. If this continues over long periods of time your immune system becomes worn out. This leaves you susceptible to illness and prolongs recovery time from injury or illness.
- Anxiety, Depression and Mental Illness – when cortisol is in your system it reduces the levels of Neurotransmitters Dopamine and Serotonin (your happy neurotransmitters). Low levels can leave you depressed and/or anxious with an increased risk of binge eating and addictive behaviours.
- Weight Gain – when cortisol is in your system your brain sends signals that you need carbohydrates and fatty foods to store as energy to escape or fight the threat. With Chronic stress, this energy is stored as fat, particularly around your waist as these fat cells are more sensitive to cortisol.
- Memory Loss – when cortisol is in your system it slows down processes in the brain, particularly the Hippocampus which is responsible for memory, learning and regulating emotions. When you are under chronic stress, the production of new brain cells slow or stop completely. Over long periods of time, this can result in the brain shrinking! The result is memory loss, difficulty making decisions and loss of control.
What Can I Do About It?
Although we can never remove all stresses from our lives, we can introduce systems to reduce it as much as possible leaving ourselves better able to cope when things do go wrong.
Prioritise regular exercise!
By doing so you increase those happy Neurotransmitters Serotonin and Dopamine plus the levels of endorphins.
Although cortisol levels can increase immediately after intense exercise, exercise-induced cortisol INCREASES dopamine, unlike chronic stress-induced cortisol.
Chronic Stress-induced cortisol levels are also greatly reduced (particularly overnight) after exercise. This causes a reduction in all the side effects of stress-induced cortisol over the long term with regular exercise.
It doesn’t matter which exercise you choose. Rebound, Strength training, Zumba, HIIT ….. whatever floats your boat! But make a choice to prioritise your wellbeing by increasing your exercise in a way that suits your life and timetable!
This one change can make a world of difference. Stress and sleep are in a loop relationship. You have a stressful day, you stay up late and then struggle to get to sleep.
You wake up shattered and your ability to cope with daily life is reduced. More Stress!!
Put together a bedtime routine:
- An hour before bed, remove all electronics or put them into bedtime mode so they do not disturb you.
- Prepare for the next morning. Layout your clothes, but the bowls out for breakfast. Prepare the kids lunches. Whatever you need so you don’t have that sinking feeling when you try to get to sleep of ‘Ahhhh I have so much to do in the morning!’.
- Take a bath, complete a short bedtime yoga sequence, meditation or read a book. Whatever works best for you to wind down!
- And if you get to bed all nice and rested and - ‘PING’ – your busy brain kicks in? Try a sleep meditation podcast such as ‘Tracks to Relax’ on Spotify to quiet that busy mind.
Starting your morning as you mean to go on!
Even if you only have a matter of minutes before the kids or animals start screaming for your attention, you can still make a difference. ‘3 min Meditations’ on Spotify are a quick and easy way to calm your body and mind, leaving you feeling peaceful and ready for the carnage that may lie ahead.
Just say NO
... In the workplace, at home, with friends and family.
Sometimes we have to accept we can not keep everyone happy and something has to give. You are important too!!
Explain to those around you that you are running yourself into the ground and cannot continue as you are. Prioritise your workload and delegate some tasks to those around you.
Yes - the kids can load and unload a dishwasher!!
Talk to Someone
Sometimes just having a chance to vent how you are feeling is enough to make you feel a little better.
It gives you a chance to sort through your feelings and process them! If you really do not feel you want to / can share with someone, journal your thoughts and feelings.
This is a great way to start and/or end the day.
At night before bed, you can pour your feelings on to the page and leave them there. Clearing your mind ready for sleep.
In the mornings by journaling your feelings and your plans for the day ahead, gives you a chance to mentally prepare.
So, will you start small? Or will you start BIG? It doesn’t matter which way you start, as long as you START!! Make a positive choice that your future self will thank you for!!
For more information and assistance with increasing your exercise to combat stress, please get in touch.
Zoe is passionate about healthy living and its benefit to body and mind. Get in touch today if you'd like to be stronger, fitter, and happier!