I recently had an interesting conversation with one of my favourite clients about the stress that the holiday season brings. I listened to her rattle on about all the things that she had to do and how stressed out she was about it all. I thought to myself, “she’s missing the whole purpose of celebrating Christmas.” The season is a celebration of life, and she’s killing herself over it. My advice to her was simple. If her tasks are void of love and full of resentment, then the recipients of her efforts will receive the same!
Stress Management…the buzz phrase of our current society. Let’s first define what stress is. According to the Stress Management Society (Stress Management Society, 2017):
“Stress is primarily a physical response. When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to fight or flight mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine to prepare the body for physical action. This causes a number of reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions such as digestion.” (para.2)
The stress response is a brilliant mechanism for human survival. It allowed humans to have quick bursts of energy to run away from danger or run towards your next meal. It enabled us to focus our attention to quickly respond. Think of a child running between parked cars on a busy street. I’m thankful for those people whose jobs require the fast action and response. Think of our first responders, the military, the medical staff in an emergency room and all those working to preserve life. Thank you. I hope you all go to yoga after a stressful shift!
The majority of us are not in life and death situations. Much of our stress is created from within or we get stressed over inappropriate situations. We are over-committing, overbooking, neglecting our own health, and letting other people’s crap affect us. Or sometimes, we feel more valuable by being so darn busy. Sometimes I think we keep busy to avoid more important issues like relationships or our own happiness. Instead of filling up the love tank we are filling up the resentment tank.
There are different types of stress responses:
Positive Stress Response
A normal and essential to healthy development. Examples might be the first day of school, a date, a job interview, or the adrenaline rush before a big game or stage performance.
Tolerable stress response
A more severe but still limited in duration. Examples might be an injury or illness, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job.
Toxic Stress Response
This is from a strong, frequent and or prolonged adversity. Examples might be exposed to violence, famine/chronic disease, physical or emotional abuse.
I think we need to take a closer look at physical and emotional abuse. It is horrible that situations arise where a person’s self-worth is chipped away by someone else. If you’re in that situation, please, please, please tell someone and get some help. What about self-abuse? I believe this a far more common. Is the way we take care of our bodies and our minds creating the stress response in our ourselves? Do we add negative energy to situations? Do we fuel our body with fake food? Do we dwell on what’s not perfect? Do we forget to be grateful?
Whether stress is in response to an actual emergency or is due to perceived stress, our body responds the same.
Let’s take a look and see how chronically elevated cortisol affects the entire body, starting at the top:
The Brain and Nervous System
The central nervous system is in charge of the “fight or flight” response. In our brain, the hypothalamus gets things started by telling the adrenal glands to release the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Chronic stress is a factor in addictive behaviours such as overeating, alcohol or drug abuse. It is also related to depression and anxiety due to the effects of cortisol on neurotransmitters. Cortisol has also been shown to damage and kill cells in the area of the brain responsible for memory. Cortisol has also been to shown to damage and kill cells in the area of the brain responsible for memory. Cortisol has been shown to damage and kill cells in the area of the brain responsible for memory…what was I saying?…haha, jk!!
Skin and Hair
Since stress hormones raise blood pressure and constrict blood vessels, nutrients are redirected away from the hair, skin, and nails. When combined with environmental stresses such as sun or smoke, THIS CAUSES WRINKLES!! After the age of 50 we will lose up to 30% of our collagen due to declining estrogen levels so we need to preserve as much as possible. If you are 50 or older, call to book an appointment with Dr. Briggs.
Muscles and Joints
Chronically elevated levels of cortisol create inflammation. Inflammation cause joints to become stiff and muscles to become tense. This stiffness can make it difficult to move and do daily activities, which leads to more stress!
The heart is the first responder to stress. An elevated heart rate increases the ability to run, jump, or move. A chronically elevated heart rate, however, constricts the blood vessels increasing the chance of a heart attack or stroke.
Chronic upset stomach, irritable bowels, constipation, and other unpleasant symptoms of the digestive system are the gut’s natural reaction to stress.
When cortisol and epinephrine are released, the liver produces more glucose, a blood sugar that would give you the energy for “fight or flight” in an emergency. When these hormones are chronically elevated, the pancreas has to produce more and more insulin to try to balance the elevated blood sugar. In time, this action results in Type 2 Diabetes. Elevated insulin levels also increase fat storage and make weight loss extremely difficult. A vicious cycle.
During stressful times, the increase in cortisol suppresses the main reproductive hormone, GnRH, which in turn causes a shut down in the production of estradiol, testosterone and sexual behaviour. In other words, STRESS KILLS YOUR SEX DRIVE.
The flood of cortisol weakens the immune system by decreasing the production of white blood cells and NK cells (the cells that fight cancer), increase tumor development and growth, and increase the rate of infection and tissue damage. Yikes!!
At EA, we are in the business of helping people to look and feel great. Increasing longevity from the inside out. It’s ridiculously obvious that if we want to feel younger, slimmer, and sexier…we are going to have to get this stress thing under control.
Rate yourself in the following assessment to see if you’re being affected by stress:
How did you rate? If you have 5 or more Totally Me answers, try Becky’s Top Ten Stress Reducers! If you have 5 or more Kinda Me answers, try getting a full night rest (at least 8 hours of sleep) in combination with Becky’s Top Ten Stress Reducers. If you got 5 or more Not Me, you are handling your stress while! Keep up the good work and refer to this blog if your stress increases.
According to Andrew Goliszek Ph.D. (Psychology Today, 2014):
“The ability to fend off illness and disease depends on several factors, some of which are beyond our control, but the way we react to stress and the general health of our immune system are things we can influence. If we’re not able to change our response to stressors, we’ll find ourselves in a constant hormonal battle that will lead to serious health issues like hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. The brain and the immune system are in constant communication in this delicate balance that can be disrupted by any kind of physical or emotional stress.”
Mind over Matter is not simply a catchphrase. It is a truth based on what we know to be fact: that the brain, given the right set of directions, the right environment, and the proper stimuli, will always choose healing over disease”
Becky’s Top Ten Stress Reducers:
1. Gratitude Journal
Writing down what or who you are grateful for is the fastest way to change your state of mind. It often puts things into perspective and minimizes the stressor. It also diverges energy from the negative towards the positive.
There are many resources available online or studio classes to teach and guide you through learning how to slow down your breath. Even 5 minutes a day will help to decrease stress in the body.
3. Social Support/Laughter
The physical act of laughing releases tension and brings positive physiological changes. Find ways to get more laughter into your life and hang out with people who make you laugh!
4. Eat Clean
Real, whole foods and a diet comprised of mostly plant food feeds the gut biome and improves the immune system
Top supplements for reducing stress are Magnesium, Vitamin B Complex, Valerian Root, 5 HTP, Rhodiola, Ashwagandha, L Theanine. Magnesium is available in both the EA line as well as the Lorna Vanderhaeghe line, both on our shelves. Magnesium is a mineral essential for muscle and nerve function and when taken at bedtime it improves sleep. Vitamin B Complex is available in the EA line. Clinical trials show that Vitamin B supplementation supports a feeling of calm and relaxed yet stable and focused. Two of my favourite products from the Lorna Vanderhaeghe line are Smile 5 HTP and Sleepsmart. 5HTP helps to increase serotonin, our happy hormone. Serotonin deficiency contributes to weight gain, anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, and panic attacks. So Smile 5-HTP helps to enhance mood and decrease appetite! Sleep Smart’s main ingredient to ease insomnia, anxiety and nervous restlessness is Valerian. It acts as a mild sedative. Kinda stinky but very effective. And the last product is AdrenaSmart has Rhodiola and Ashwagandha. Rhodiola increases the body’s resistance to chemical, biological and physical stressors. Ashwagandha provides support to the adrenal glands and may improve mental clarity, energy, cardiovascular health, weight management and blood sugar balancing.
According to research done by the American Psychological Association, adults who sleep fewer than 8 hours/night report higher stress levels than those who sleep at least 8 hours/night. Now, sometimes we can’t sleep because we’re stressed but it’s so important that we figure out a way to get some ZZZs. I’m a huge fan of BioIdentical Hormones for perimenopausal and menopausal women. Speak to Dr. Briggs if you’re in this age group and you’re lying awake at night. Sometimes a little progesterone does the trick. I’m also a big supporter of EA’s Melatonin. The formula is perfected for helping you to fall asleep and stay asleep. Start with 3mg and work your way up slowly.
Not only does exercise provide a distraction from stress, it actually lowers cortisol levels and increases endorphins, (the body’s feel-good hormones). Exercise also helps to release to physical and emotional tension. Walking and yoga are considered excellent for reducing stress. It’s more important to find an activity that you enjoy and works for you.
8. Say No
Sometimes we fill our days to capacity and end up resenting some of what we do. I suggest minimizing your commitments so that you can truly enjoy more of your activities and relationships.
It’s ironic that stress decreases sex drive but sex is one of the most powerful stress management techniques.Researchers have found that sex and physical intimacy led women to feel less stressed and be in a better mood the next day. And orgasm relaxes the body and releases many hormones that are supportive of overall health. So…if you’re stressed out, get naked and get intimate!
10. Letting Go/Forgiving
Harbouring negative thoughts towards others or a situation actually further increase stress hormones in the body. Let go of this negative behaviour. Forgive those who have wronged you. Look for the positive in the encounter. Perhaps feel empathy…sometimes people just don’t know how to behave.You’ll be free to live your life by your own design.
As we head into the New Year, I hope you strive for peace in your life.
Wishing you Health & Happiness