Stress Wreaks Havoc on the Body
It is commonly understood that the brain/mind and body are very closely linked and influence the other's health and functioning on many levels. One aspect involving the brain which has profound effects upon the body is that of stress. Stress may be perceived by the mind (psychological) or be environmental, such as extremes of temperature. It is the perceived stress (or anxiety) which may create many physical challenges in the body and may over time exacerbate problematic conditions and cause real damage. "Stress" may be described as what a person feels when life's demands exceed the person's ability to meet or adapt to those demands.
Mechanisms of Stress in the Body
There are many stressors that affect us daily: noise, crowds, driving, crime, racism, abuse, school, work, negative emotions, overexercising, lack of sleep, angry emotions, loneliness and more. When these accumulate they disrupt not only our immune system but also our hormone balance, throwing multiple body systems into chaos. The body has developed mechanisms to protect it from stress damage. The "fight-or-flight" response is a method the body uses to deal with extreme stress situations. Adrenal stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol are secreted when we feel in danger. This enables the body to fight or run as needed to deal with the source of danger. This response is designed to be short-lived. As a result of modern life, however, many of us are in a "continual state" of this fight-or-flight response, with debilitating results for the body.
Stress Effects in the Body
Our ability to adapt to stress depends on optimal adrenal gland health (adrenal hormone balance). Cortisol imbalances can lead to blood sugar problems, compromised immune function, weight gain, chronic fatigue, infertility, memory loss, and sleep disturbances. Studies have also shown high cortisol levels are linked to high triglyceride levels, heart disease, and breast cancer. The immune system in response to certain stressors releases pro-inflammatory cytokines which cause damage, possibly worsening symptoms of autoimmune diseases.
Nourishing the adrenal glands is important for resisting stress and the attendant damage it may cause. Various nutrients and adaptogenic herbs offer support here. Vitamin C is required for optimal adrenal function, as is vitamin B-5 (pantothenic acid). Prolonged stress will create deficiencies of these nutrients, exacerbating the situation.
Herbs known as adaptogens help the body to adapt to and resist stress, both physical and psychological. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) has been shown to reduce stress hormones including cortisol. The herb enhances mood, alleviates insomnia, increases energy and reduces anxiety. The herb rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) works in essentially the same manner with the same beneficial effects upon the body. Phosphatidyl serine (PS), is a fat-soluble phospholipid found in the human brain. It has been shown to blunt cortisol levels, especially following physical stress such as strenuous training.
Methods for Lowering Stress
Here are some things which one may do to help alleviate stress. Some are very simple and require little change to your routine.
1) Exercise outdoors in a park or other natural setting, while still maintaining a safe distance. Even your back yard will do. Along with the exercise itself, sunshine and fresh air can go a long way to change your body's tendency to hold stress.
2) Avoid information overload. Get your facts from a trusted source. Reduce exposure to social media and the internet in general — these can cause unwanted stress. In addition, the blue light radiation from your screen or device is doing your already stressed-out body no favors.
3) Maintain a healthy diet. Over-reliance on inflammatory foods (refined, processed, sugar-laden) can depress the immune system. Eat from a healthy rainbow palette (green foods contain abundant magnesium, a natural stress buster).
4) Laugh! Laughter relaxes the body and mind alike, reducing stress. Watch a comedy on Netflix occasionally rather than that sobering war drama.
5) Don't procrastinate. Do it sooner rather than later, regardless of the task or plan. Procrastination is inherently stressful.
6) Deep Breathing & Meditation can both reduce stress and anxiety. When under stress we have a tendency to breathe shallowly. Try to take five deep slow breaths (your lungs should fully expand and your belly swell) the next time you are stressed or anxious. This simple exercise is calming and relaxing.
For a free guided meditation, see Alicia Love's website. Alicia has a Bachelors in Herbal Science from Bastyr University and is a certified Spiritual Life Coach with over 15 years experience helping people "to strengthen their connection to their own Divine Wisdom, Personal Power and Self Love."
For more information on coping with stress see Evergreen's other Newsletters on the topic.
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