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Stress is the body’s reaction to either a real or perceived threat and affects us all.
It is a reflex action designed to get us out of danger, such as when you are about to get run over by a car. Your reflex action is to jump out of the way. This is the fight, flight and freeze mechanism at work and is known as survival mode.
The important thing to keep in mind is that your threat of survival is your ‘perceived’ threat. Some people can handle stress better than others and what causes stress for one person may be inconsequential to another.
In small doses, stress can avoid you from getting hurt, as in the above example. Our bodies are only designed to handle small doses of stress – the hormones released should only be in the body for a short period of time.
These days however, we live busy lives running from one thing to the next, with deadlines to meet, we’re stuck in traffic or the kids are playing up. Our bodies perceive these as threats and many of us are in the survival mode most of the time.
What happens when we stress?
The body is either in rest and digest, which is the healthy state and functioning optimally, or the survival mode of fight, flight or freeze causing energy healing imbalances.
During survival mode, hormones are released into the bloodstream causing heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate to increase. Muscles tighten and pupils dilate so you can get out of the way quickly, or stay and fight.
What happens in Survival mode – fight, flight or freeze
- Blood pressure increases
- Heart rate increases
- Muscles tighten and fill with blood
- Breathing rate increases
- Pupils dilate
The body cannot be in both modes at once, so when the body is in survival mode, the normal body functions of growth and reproduction systems, immune system and digestive system shut down. Also, in today’s world, because the perceived threats aren’t literally a matter of life and death, the stress hormones circulating in your body can’t go anywhere.
A little stress every now and then is not something to be concerned about. Ongoing, chronic stress however, can cause or exacerbate many serious health conditions.
90% of chronic disease is caused by stress
What are the symptoms of stress?
Stress can affect all aspects of your life, including your emotions, thinking ability, behaviours and physical health. No part of the body is immune, but because people handle stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary. Physical symptoms of stress:
- Aches, pains, and tense muscles
- Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet
- Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
- Clenched jaw and grinding teeth
- Low energy
- Cardiovascular disease including heart disease and high blood pressure, heart attacks, abnormal heart rhythms or stroke
- Menstrual problems
- Skin and hair problems, such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema and permanent hair loss
How does stress affect your sex life?
Loss of sexual desire and/or ability – because the growth and reproductive system aren’t functioning optimally when in survival mode.
Sexual dysfunction, such as impotence and premature ejaculation in men and loss of sexual desire in both men and women are common.
A diminished interest in sex is one of many symptoms that can develop as a result of increased psychological stress and studies show that a decreased sex drive is a common complaint in people who have stressful jobs and work long hours. Fortunately, taking steps to manage your stress can help you regain some of your lost sexual energy.
How does stress affect the immune system?
Over time, stress hormones will weaken your immune system and reduce your body’s response to foreign invaders. People under chronic stress are more susceptible to viral illnesses like the flu and the common cold, as well as other infections. Stress can also increase the time it takes you to recover from an illness or injury.
The connection between chronic pain and stress
When we look at an individual who is constantly experiencing pain, their body is also constantly producing toxic stress hormones. Stress isn’t an intangible thing — it’s a damaging chemical to the body when prolonged.
Research has shown that individuals who are under this constant state of stress experience a decrease or damage of cognitive function to the brain, lowered IQ, and, as a result of the chemical response, the pain becomes more pronounced. More pain, more stress. More stress, more pain. This cycle can be difficult to break for many individuals who suffer from chronic illness or condition that causes debilitating pain.
How does stress affect sleep?
Insomnia – one effect of stress is that it can cause sleep deprivation. Frequently being in a heightened state of alertness can delay the onset of sleep and cause rapid, anxious thoughts to occur at night and insufficient sleep can then cause further stress.
According to a National Sleep Foundation survey, 43 percent of people aged 13–64 have reported lying awake at night due to stress at least once in the past month.
By lowering stress levels in the evening before bed, many people could improve the duration and quality of their sleep.
How does stress affect the stomach?
The gastrointestinal system is not functioning optimally. This causes your esophagus to go into spasms, increasing the acid in your stomach and results in indigestion, making you feel nauseous or give you diarrhea or constipation.
In more serious cases, stress may cause a decrease in blood flow and oxygen to the stomach, which could lead to cramping, inflammation or an imbalance of gut bacteria. It can also exacerbate gastrointestinal disorders including:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Peptic ulcers
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
It’s important to take measures to be in control during stressful situations and find ways to keep yourself calm, because although stress may not cause stomach ulcers or inflammatory bowel disease directly, it can certainly make these and other digestion diseases worse.
How does stress affect you emotionally?
This can cause emotional symptoms – such as anxiety, depression or personality disorders.
Stress and anxiety often go hand in hand. Stress comes from the demands placed on your brain and body and anxiety is when you feel high levels of worry, unease, or fear. Anxiety can certainly be an offshoot of episodic or chronic stress.
Having both stress and anxiety can have a severe negative impact on your health, making you more likely to develop high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, panic disorder or depression. Emotional symptoms of stress include:
- Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody.
- Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control.
- Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind.
- Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), loneliness, worthless and depressed.
- Avoiding others.
- How does stress affect your thoughts?
- Cognitive symptoms of stress include:
- Constant worrying
- Racing thoughts
- Forgetfulness and disorganisation
- Inability to focus
- Poor judgment
- Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side
How does stress affect your behaviour?
Behavioral symptoms of stress include:
- Changes in appetite — either not eating or eating too much causing obesity and other eating disorders
- Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
- Increased use of alcohol, drugs or cigarettes and possible addiction
- Exhibiting more nervous behaviors, such as nail-biting, fidgeting and pacing
How to ease stress in your life
The good news is… stress and anxiety can be treated.
In order to deal with stress, first you have to identify the things that cause you stress — your triggers. We need to get to the root cause of the stress if we are to make a difference and this is where I come in.
There is no quick fix for chronic stress. I tailor a plan specifically for you with an holistic approach using spiritual healing and clinical understanding, so you can live your best life.
While stress is a normal part of life, too much stress is clearly harmful to your physical and mental well-being.
Here are some basic ways to start dealing with stress:
- Maintain a healthy diet
- Aim for 7-8 hours sleep each night
- Exercise regularly
- Minimize your use of caffeine and alcohol
- Stay socially connected so you can get and give support
- Make time for rest and relaxation, or self-care
- Learn meditation techniques such as deep breathing