What is Stress?
Stress is your body’s reaction to your external environment, as well as to your inner thoughts and feelings. Stress is NOT the situation or incident itself, but rather how you react to or interpret those events or experiences. Because of the subjective nature of stress, each individual responds differently — what is stressful to one person may not be stressful to another.
Types of Stress
Stress comes in many forms — some are obvious, but there are less-than-obvious factors that create stress in the body too. Some include:
- Physical – trauma, injury, intense physical activity
- Situational – moving, changing jobs, a global pandemic
- Lifestyle – not enough sleep, exposure to toxins, loneliness, isolation; this new area of research on the effects of stress in individuals without a strong support system is garnering a lot of attention
- Nutritional – eating too much, not eating enough, imbalanced blood sugar, consuming refined sugars, skipping meals
- Health conditions – cold & flu, surgery, chronic pain, etc.
Anatomy + Physiology of Stress
When we are stressed, the body’s natural response to this danger is to go into the “fight-or-flight” mechanism. This mechanism works really well for short-term, acute sources of stress; however, it hasn’t adapted to the amount of stress we are chronically bombarded with in this day and age. The body’s stress response is an innate survival mechanism that can be very healthy and productive. It is important to note, however, that we are designed to default to this response for short bursts of time, not to live in this zone as a way of being. Realistically, if you are living a full and productive life, you will most likely be under chronic stress a lot of the time.
When we experience stress, the body stimulates the adrenal glands to release stress hormones: cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. Cortisol is the hormone that begins to wreak havoc when we endure chronic stress. As these stress hormones release, they help your body respond to stress by increasing blood sugar levels, breathing rate, cardiac output, and blood flow to the muscles, lungs, and brain (so we have more energy to literally RUN AWAY from stressors).
How Does Stress Manifest in the Body?
Everyone’s body reacts differently to stress, but some common things that often come up for my clients include immune system changes, digestive difficulties, changes in energy, sleep disturbances, anxiety and mood concerns, and increased cravings, particularly for carbohydrates.
I know this all seems depressing, but there are some simple + easy things you can do to help your body “get better at stress” and work toward avoiding some of the negative consequences of chronic stress.
- Cut back on caffeine – I always cringe after I make this suggestion, anticipating a negative response. Truthfully, I know I can’t always be popular with my clients. But indulging in copious amounts of coffee, black tea, and energy drinks will only exacerbate stress. Consuming caffeinated beverages may alleviate stress in the short-term, but long-term use can wreak havoc on our anxiety levels and adrenal glands, which release and regulate our stress hormones. I am not suggesting that you NEVER drink coffee again, because that wouldn’t be realistic for most people. But, after that first morning cup, try one of these alternatives:
- Green tea or matcha – the caffeine in green tea gently provides energy without interfering with our adrenals too much. It contains a specific phytochemical (plant chemical) called L-theanine, which promotes what’s called “relaxed alertness,” and has a really unique effect on our brain waves. Matcha is especially high in antioxidant nutrients due to consumption of the whole tea leaf
- Other teas – some of my favourites are rooibos, lemongrass, and dandelion root
- Half caf – try ordering half regular coffee + half decaf to cut down on your caffeine
- Bump up your nutrient status with a high quality multi-nutrient supplement. Stress demands a higher demand for nutrients, especially B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc. A good multi can help fill in the gaps, nutritionally speaking, and optimize nutrient status during times of stress. (Questions about what multivitamin is best? Get in touch with me.)
- Eat three meals at regular intervals throughout the day. I don’t even care WHAT you eat for these three meals; just make sure you’re nourishing yourself properly and taking the time to sit down for a few minutes, relax, and eat something.
If you feel like you’re ready to make your health a priority, take the first step by booking your complimentary discovery call and we’ll chat about how I can best support a more stress-free you.