Stress is a normal part of life- we all know too well- and it can even be a terrific motivator for us to get things done. However, there are times when stress levels can become too high for even the most easygoing of people to handle. Having effective tools for stress management can significantly improve the quality of your life.
What is Stress?
Simply defined, stress is a physiological or bodily response to a stressor. A stressor is something in the environment that causes a stress response.
Stress can be psychological or physical in origin, and the overall level of stress that a person is experiencing at any given time is dependent on each of these factors. Identifying and managing stressors at all levels is an important part of complete health, as stress can manifest itself as anything from indigestion to chronic health concerns like autoimmune diseases and cancer.
Psychological stress produces a physical stress response in the body and is often described based on the following categories:
- General Stress includes things like uncertainty and fear (which may be real or perceived).
- Life Stress: life transitions like moving, changing jobs, loss of loved ones, divorce or separation can be stressful. Traumatic events are also included in this category.
- Work Stress includes responsibilities, time spent at work, conflicts with colleagues or bosses, financial troubles, and other work-related stress.
- Internal Stress is based on the way we perceive the world. Sometimes we may feel stress not in response to what is actually happening in the present, but based on past experiences that have helped shape our world view.
People often overlook physical stressors in the context of stress management, but they are an equally important part of the picture!
- Diet: food sensitivities are one of the easiest to identify and remove stressors. Often, people are eating foods that are contributing to low-grade inflammation, which is stressful to the body. Learn more about food allergies and sensitivities here.
- Exercise: while exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress, sometimes people over-exercise. Training leading up to a competition or marathon can be taxing and contributes to higher overall stress levels.
- Sleep: poor sleep habits can contribute to poor stress management. When you don’t get enough sleep, your cortisol levels rise to help compensate. This leads to food cravings, anxiety, mood swings, and a cycle of exhaustion that is hard to break out of.
- Environment: whether it’s the busy pace of the city, or spending time in places with toxic substances, your environment can play a huge role in stress levels.
How Does Stress Make Me Sick?
Stress affects the body in many ways! More than people probably realize. A little bit of stress is a good thing; a healthy stress response helps us get through life and can even be fun. Situations like challenging games, first kisses, and roller coaster rides can all be stressful and pleasant at the same time. Say a tiger was chasing you: it might not be pleasant, but the rush of adrenaline that helps you fight, run away, or freeze might save your life. However, when stress levels are high all the time, or when we experience fight-or-flight reactions to imaginary fears, it can be unhealthy.
The fight-or-flight response is the classic way that we describe the sympathetic nervous system. When this part of the nervous system is activated, many things happen in the body that allow for potentially life-saving actions to occur, and quickly. Our blood pressure rises and blood moves to our core, our pupils dilate, and our heart rate increases. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, is released from the adrenal glands, which helps maintain this active state.
Over time, when the stress response is constantly engaged, and cortisol levels are constantly high, the body can’t help but respond with illness. High blood pressure can be a direct effect of constant stress, which increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. Cortisol also suppresses the immune system, allowing other chronic illnesses to develop: wounds take longer to heal, people feel more tired, more belly weight is kept on, and mood concerns like depression and anxiety are more common.
How Can Naturopathic Medicine Help?
Stress is probably the most modifiable risk factor for almost every chronic illness. Naturopathic doctors have just the right combination of tools to be able to help you manage chronic stress on both the mental/emotional and physical levels.
Chronic stress depletes the body of many vitamins and minerals, and NDs can help you to replace them through diet, or supplementation. There are many herbs that help calm and replenish the adrenal glands so that the body is more able to respond to stress in your life. NDs also have counseling training to help you identify which thought patterns and lifestyle factors are contributing to your stress load.
Let us help lift your stress, we’re good at the heavy lifting! Book an appointment with us!