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How Your Body Deals With Stress

Do you find yourself feeling stressed as we get closer and closer to the end of the year? There may be huge deadlines to hit, goals to reach, school years to conclude and farewells to be had. Maybe you are feeling like you’re reaching the end of a marathon, and just thirsty for the finish line. We totally get it and believe it or not, so does your body.

Stress Is Not Always Bad

Our bodies get stressed in a healthy way when we need to rise to a challenge set in front of us. You will feel your heart beating a little faster, preparing you to take action, your breathing might get quicker, which sends oxygen into your brain. This is the normal stress response, and our perception of it can make it either a positive or a negative thing.

Essentially, good stress helps us when we need to perform our best. If we are anticipating an exam or a presentation in our workspace, or we have a special event ahead, we can feel stressed. This is our bodies’ clever way of communicating that we can achieve what we set out to achieve!

Bad stress (chronic) is more of a constant thing that we can experience over longer periods of time. It is this chronic stress that kicks our natural energy distribution out of balance.

How Stress Works In The Body

When we experience stress, whether it is good or bad stress, our adrenaline and cortisol levels begin to rise. This happens through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals in the body.

The Hypothalamus (which is a small part in the brain that releases hormones and regulates our body temperature) tells our adrenal glands to release these two stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol). This means that our pulse and breathing quickens, and our blood pressure begins to increase as part of the body’s “fight or flight” response.

Being stressed requires so much of our energy in this kind of response that our body can land up putting all our other functions on hold. Cortisol curbs the functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. As a result of this, your body could also stop repairing your tissue and renewing your cells.

At this point, there would be very little energy left for other essential systems such as your digestion and reproduction. Which is why chronic stress leaves us feeling irritable, forgetful, overwhelmed, isolated and sleepdeprived.

There Are Two Main Kinds: Acute And Chronic

Acute:

Acute stress is the reaction to an immediate threat, commonly known as the “fight or flight” response. Once the threat has passed, our levels of hormones return to normal with no long-lasting effects. In acute situations, our stress hormones dissipate as quickly as they were created.

Chronic:

Chronic stress is the response to pressures suffered for a prolonged period of time.

This constant presence of perceived stress causes our fight-or-flight reaction to stay on for longer than it should. The long-term activation of the stress-response system and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can disrupt almost all of our body’s natural processes.  

Chronic stress takes a toll on adrenal glands, causing excess cortisol in our systems. It’s this excess cortisol that can leave us feeling either wired or tired.

Research has also shown that excess cortisol can lead to a host of physical health problems including weight gain, osteoporosis, digestive problems, hormone imbalances, heart disease, and diabetes. Cortisol also takes an equally high toll on your brain.

The Good News Is: Our Bodies Are Designed To Handle Stress

The first step in building stress resilience is by realising and believing that stress can be a positive thing. If you believe that stress is just a negative thing it will react negatively in your body. If you believe it is a positive thing then it will react positively in your body! In fact, it can actually boost your performance. It is all about your perception!

Wholesome Food Tip: A Low GI diet can actually help your body manage stress. Eating low GI foods will actually balance your blood sugar, reduce your carbohydrate cravings and help with weight management. Most of all it will balance your mood and energy levels!

Check out the Ted Talk below. It actually changed the way I think about this very common thing and it reminded me that I have the power to learn to use certain elements of stress to my advantage, instead of allowing it to run the show.

See how stress can be a good thing! It all depends on your perception of it.