Last week, I wrote about April being Move More Month. This week, I want to address another topic that April is known for - Stress Awareness.
Let's define stress and the nuances of it. Put simply, stress is a reaction to a change or challenge.
In more detailed terms, stress happens when you experience a stimulus that triggers your brain enough to send specific signals and chemicals throughout your nervous system. When this happens, your kidneys release stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which set off a series of events that alert your entire body that “danger” is present. The stress response makes our hearts beat faster, pushes blood into our muscles, and helps us breathe more quickly.
Sweaty palms, an uneasy stomach, and general nervousness are all symptoms that we recognize. They might pop up on a first date, before a presentation, or as you’re about to get on a rollercoaster. These are all forms of acute stress, or short-term stress. Our body is equipped to handle acute stress because it’s only temporary.
Chronic stress is what can cause issues. Poverty, discrimination, abusive relationships, and stressful jobs can all be sources of chronic stress. In fact, even if you experience acute stress frequently enough, it can turn into chronic stress.
Why is chronic stress so much worse for the body? Basically, the longer and more frequently that you experience stress, the more your body has to adjust to keep functioning normally. Over time, your resting heart rate will increase, as will your blood pressure, breathing rate, and levels of muscle tension. In other words, chronic stress creates a new normal inside your body, which can lead to serious health consequences.
Stressors are the triggers in the world that activate the stress response inside your body. Some stressors are external, like money, work, family, and relationships. Other stressors are internal, like body image, self-identity, memories, and thoughts of the future. In different ways and different degrees (depending on the person), these things can all be interpreted by the body as a potential threat or danger.
The most efficient way to complete the stress response cycle is to engage in physical activity enough to a point of breathing heavily, then returning to normal. In other words, physical activity is what tells your brain that you’ve survived the threat and your body is safe. Ideally, 20-60 minutes of physical activity daily is what you should aim for.
Another way to combat stress is to be sure you're getting enough sleep. Following a regular sleep routine calms and restores the body, improving concentration, regulating mood, and sharpening decision-making skills. In other words, you’re a better problem solver, and are therefore better able to cope with stress when you’re well-rested.
Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress. Generally speaking, it’s a good rule of thumb to eat lots of (and a wide variety of) vegetables, drink plenty of water, and limit or avoid caffeine, sugar, and alcohol.
One of the worst things you can do to cope with your stress is to ignore it.
If you’re someone who deals with high levels of stress on a consistent basis, it’s likely that your body, mind, and overall well-being is paying the price. If you would like individualized support in getting a handle on chronic stress, let me know! Simply schedule a free 30-minute call.