Stress, stress, stress

We hear it all the time, but what is it?  Why, unless we are being chased by a bear, stress is not so helpful for our longevity.

I think we are all aware that through the evolution of our species we designed certain mechanisms to protect us in times of danger. So, if we are chased by that tiger or potentially involved in a road rage incident, stress can be beneficial. 

In brief this is what happens to us:

Your brain sends signals to activate the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). This will mobilise your body’s resources to deal with the situation. The stress hormones triggered by the SNS, are primarily cortisol and adrenaline (also known as epinephrine). These hormones prepare your body to either fight the stressor, or flee from it. This is, as we better know it, the good old ‘fight or flight’ response. 

Here is what happens to your body to get you ready:
  • Heart rate and blood pressure increase: this increases blood flow to your muscles and vital organs, helping you react better and quicker to a perceived threat.
  • Rapid Breathing: our breathing quickens so we inhale more blood into our body. Oxygenating your blood provides more fuel to your muscles. 
  • Muscles tense: preparing them for action.
  • Suppression of Non-Essential Functions: your body will prioritise functions that are essential for survival. The cardiovascular and respiratory systems will receive more
  • resources, at the expense of non-essential functions like digestion, reproduction, and immune response.
  • Heightened Awareness, Focus and Alertness: to give you the Eye of the Tiger
  • Reduced Pain Sensitivity: Adrenaline can temporarily suppress pain perception, allowing you to push through injuries or discomfort in the short term.

All of that should be enough to help cope with the hungry bear or the angry arsehole.  But, what happens if in this modern life we lead, it’s not the bear we have to worry about, it’s the: kids, parents, in-laws, boss, business, staff, neighbours, money, health etc, etc. These guys can show up every day in an unrelenting fashion and can really stress us out.

What happens to our body then?  

Well, the body’s responses above are great for short term danger, but if we wake up stressed every day, it becomes harder for our body to turn off these ‘fight or flight’ responses. A prolonged stress response can start to deteriorate our health which can lead to nasty symptoms and serious conditions:

  • Prolonged high blood pressure can harden and weaken your arteries causing heart disease and potential strokes. Headaches, fatigue and insomnia are symptoms of high blood pressure.
  • Rapid breathing and muscle tension will fatigue your body, causing localised pain and can exacerbate mental health issues such as anxiety.
  • If your immune function is affected by prolonged stress hormones, your ability to fight infections will be suppressed and inflammation is produced. Repetitive sinus infections, post viral coughs and tonsillitis and the big winners here.
  • The same applies with your gut. Remember, circulation will be diverted to the muscles and brain which leaves less for digestion, inhibiting the gut biome to do its digestive thing. This can cause problems like irritable bowel syndrome, reflux or even more serious conditions such as ulcerative colitis.   
  • Stress hormones can disrupt a menstrual cycle, libido & potentially the sperm’s ability to swim properly. All these factors can impact fertility and make it a little harder to conceive.

Apart from making us feel crappy and generally leading to more misery than joy, excessive stress can really corrode our health. So, you really need to take this on board. Some stress is good and helps us thrive, but you know what they say about too much of a good thing. Here are some helpful tips to keep the impact of stress at bay.  They may seem obvious but they actually work. 

Stress Hacks – what can help with the symptoms:

  • Acupuncture
  • Exercise
  • Meditation/Breathing work
  • Laughter
  • Open up (talk about it and let it out)  

– Nick

Published on March 27, 2024