Stress Part 1

Stress is good and bad, it is a necessary part of our lives, another way to say this is, “some is good, but more is NOT better.”  Some people do well with moderate amounts of stress while other people cannot handle even the smallest amounts of it.

“Stress is the top reason behind most visits to the doctor, and it contributes to all the big causes of death, including heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer.” -Sara Gottfried, MD

Animals (humans included) are kept alive by a systematic response that dates back way before the invention of the light bulb.  The fight-or-flight response.  This response allowed us and other mammals to survive LIFE-THREATENING events.  The sympathetic nervous system is designed to help our bodies master allostasis, or maintaining stability through change.  Our primal bodies unfortunately aren’t able to tell the difference between physical and psychological stress.  It doesn’t know if you’re being chased by a gun man or irritated by the lack of turn signals being used by fellow drivers (read: stress = stress = stress).

If you have a lot of psychological or emotional stress your ability to recover from physical stress decreases.  For example… work is very stressful with deadlines, your significant other isn’t being supportive of your new, healthy lifestyle, and you’re killing it at the gym… these are all three stressors on your body.  If we don’t balance our personal stresses you may feel more tired in the AM, overly sore the day after a workout, or some other symptom of “too much stress”.

Sound familiar?

For my fellow science nerds– when we perceive something as a stressor a  well-orchestrated physiological sequence of events happens:

1.The eyes, ears or both perceive a stress

2. A message is sent to the amygdala (an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing)

3. The message is interpreted, if it is labeled “dangerous”

4. A distress signal is sent to the hypothalamus (think of the hypothalamus as the air traffic control tower)

5. The sympathetic system is activated

6. The adrenal glands are instructed to secrete epinephrine (adrenaline) into the bloodstream

7. A number of physiological changes take place (increased heart rate, blood pressure increases, rapid breathing, alertness increases,  and sugar is released from storage to name a few)

8. If the stressor has not passed (some studies say if it you experience something stressful for more than 120 seconds) the adrenals are instructed to secrete cortisol

9. The increase in cortisol does three main things– raises blood sugar, increases blood sugar, and modulates inflammation

“Research suggests that prolonged stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction. More preliminary research suggests that chronic stress may also contribute to obesity, both through direct mechanisms (causing people to eat more) or indirectly (decreasing sleep and exercise).” -Harvard Medical School Newsletter

We all have stress, but those that can manage it well tend to live longer, healthier lives.  We need to figure out what is “reasonable” for ourselves! Quite trying to keep up with that person who is always PR’ing.   Take a moment to think about what’s right for you, right now.  Know that what works for you this week may be different than the next week because your other stressors may be higher or lower.

It’s all about balance people… now if someone can remind me of that too, I know my body would be super thankful :)

Stay tuned for part 2 to learn what we can do to balance our stressors and support a healthy reaction to stress.  Remember, over time, repeated activation of the stress response takes a toll on the body.  Let’s partner together to make sure your body stays well, well into the future.


Here’s to creating Unstressed Wellness!

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Copied from a post I did while working as a Nutrition Coach at CFWH.

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