Is Chronic Stress Affecting Your Health?
Everyone experiences stress at one time or another, but chronic high stress, and how that stress is perceived, can be detrimental to your physical and mental health. It can instigate feelings of anxiety and overwhelming fear. It can also weaken your immune system and overall health, leaving you susceptible to colds and flu, an increase in aches and pains, as well as many serious illnesses.
How We Help Our Clients Transform Stress Into Success
Chronic stress silently deteriorates many aspects of your health, including hormone imbalances and modifications to the structure and function of your brain. These changes make it more challenging to cope with daily stress, decrease concentration and memory, and eventually will lead to a mental or brain fog.
Amazingly, the effects of stress often go unnoticed until the accumulation manifests as mental or physical exhaustion or burnout. Due to the overall compromised health and chronic disease stress causes, it has often been referred to as “The Silent Killer.”
Here are examples of symptoms and conditions that can result from chronic stress:
- Decreased concentration
- Mental or brain fog
- Decreased memory capacity
- Muscle or back pain
- Blood sugar dysregulation
- Increased risk of type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Headaches or migraines
- Hormonal and thyroid imbalances
- Weight gain
- Addiction (smoking, alcohol or drug abuse)
- GI conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome
- Frequent infections (such as cold or flu)
- Accelerated aging
What Is Stress? What Are The 4 Key Stressors?
Initiation of the stress response begins within the brain and activates release of a series of hormones. The stress response system includes the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).
The HPA axis and the SNS regulate your body’s fight-or-flight response, which is important for preparing the body to quickly respond to immediate danger, such as avoiding a car accident. The result of HPA and SNS activation is a heightened sense of awareness, an accelerated heart rate and rapid breathing.
Cortisol is the primary hormone involved in regulating the stress response. The adrenal glands secrete cortisol, along with the fight-or-flight hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline). These hormones travel through the bloodstream preparing the body for a quick response to potential danger.
In addition to heightened awareness, you will experience an increase in blood sugar and blood pressure, as well as decreased immune defense, decreased digestion and a breakdown in muscle. Once the stressor is removed, this state of “sympathetic nervous system dominance” will subside and your body will return to a normal relaxed state.
It is natural for the body to respond to occasional “acute” activation of the HPA axis and sympathetic nervous system. However, chronic stress resulting from living a stressful life is not what the body was built to withstand. If the stressor(s) are not removed, or ongoing stress accumulates, the hormones will cause damage to the body by depleting the body’s resources and shifting into a state of catabolism, or breakdown.
The 4 Key Stressors
When most people think of stress, they usually limit their definition to mental and emotional stressors. Changing jobs or losing a loved one, for example, can send your stress (and cortisol) levels soaring.
However, events like blood sugar imbalances, inadequate sleep and inflammation, are also potent stimulators of cortisol production within the HPA axis. The result is an activation of the stress response system.
One of the most common and easiest stressors to control, is imbalanced blood sugar.
Skipping breakfast after fasting overnight, causes your blood sugar levels to drop. Your body attempts to restore balance by increasing cortisol levels which will restore blood sugar to normal. There are no major consequences if this is an occasional occurrence, however, ongoing blood sugar fluctuations controlled by hormones can become a problem.
If blood sugar remains an issue, coupled with inflammation in the body, poor sleep patterns, and then topped with mental and emotional stress, you have created a recipe for disaster. It is critical to identify the major stressors in your life so you may develop a plan to overcome stress before it becomes a pathway to chronic disease.