Stress- it’s the silent thing that we all deal with on a daily basis. It has impacted us all now more than ever with all of the national news and epidemics such as the coronavirus. While we may not always be able to control the sources of stress in our lives, we can change how we react to them. The good news is that our body is actually designed to experience and handle stress, which is why it reacts to it so strongly.
Now more than ever it’s important that we learn how to adapt to elements of stress and use it to our advantage. But before we discuss how we can help our body do that naturally it’s important to understand stress and how it impacts our body.
It is now believed that 75 to 90 percent of all doctor’s office visits are related to conditions caused by stress. Most of us believe that stress is a bad thing and that we would be better off without it. However, not all stress is bad. In fact, without it we may oftentimes lack the motivation to perform at our best. There is a certain amount of stress that propels us to protect ourselves or perform at our best. It’s when stress becomes uncontrolled over long periods of time that it becomes “chronic stress” and can be harmful.
Our Body’s Stress Response System
Stress itself may not be good, but our body was designed to have a natural response to it. This natural response was how our ancestors survived- when a threat presented itself, they reacted by fighting or running, also referred to as “fight or flight” instinct. The Franklin Institute refers to this as “metabolic overdrive.”
When our body becomes stressed or fear is triggered adrenaline and cortisol flood our body. Breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate increases as well. Glucose then is also released into the bloodstream for on-demand energy. Digestive, growth, reproduction and our immune system is suppressed or put on hold as well. Lastly, blood flow to our skin is decreased, and our pain tolerance increases.
In a real crisis, we would reverse many of these processes as we would fight or flee and resolve the issue. After some additional calming efforts we may be able to dispel adrenaline as well to bring our body back into balance. Unfortunately, most of our lives today do not offer us the chance to enact a full stress response resolution. Instead, most of us live our lives as if we are in a low-state of emergency with no real resolution in sight. In most cases, we don’t physically dispel the stress hormones or slow down to actually resolve the real issues. So what is chronic stress doing to us?
Stress and Our Immune System
When your body is stressed and perceives that it is facing fear, fighting off an infection is not its primary focus. The bigger issue is that chronic stress dampens our immune system, making it that much harder for our body to fight off any infection such as the common cold or flu.
Stress can also trigger a detrimental overdrive in our immune systems as it contributes to inflammation in our bodies. Our immune system may react to other damage going on in our body due to stress and send out immune compounds known as cytokines that contribute to the inflammatory response. These compounds can damage our healthy cells in their efforts while trying to combat the unhealthy factors going on in our bodies.
In addition to this, stress also affects our blood-brain barrier according to the Franklin Institute. This barrier protects many substances that enter our body from ever reaching and affecting our brain, items such as viruses, toxins, and drugs fall into this category.
Since digestion is also dialed down during the stress response, chronic stress can contribute to a variety of digestive disorders as well.
The Silent Reaches of Stress
Just because we aren’t able to protect ourselves from the stress of all that is going on around us right now doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t learn to deal with the stress more effectively. For many of us chronic stress has to do with feeling helpless or out of control. We encourage everyone during stressful times to contact their local health professional and use those times as an opportunity.
Identify what is causing you stress in your life, pay attention to your thoughts and beliefs and what may be contributing to them. Make time to engage in things such as exercise, yoga, meditation, and connect with others. Stress is an unavoidable part of our lives, but it’s our choice how we respond to it.
For individuals who may need additional supplemental help combatting stress, we created Anxiety IQ with ingredients such as passion flower, lavender, chamomile, hops, and GABA to help your body adapt to stress better.