We all have some level of stress right now, wouldn't you agree? Between COVID-19, Black Lives Matter protests, and the subsequent negative reactions in some quarters, and the increasingly negative and polarizing political commentary we can't seem to get away from, is it any wonder?
And we won't even touch the more personal aspects, such as feelings of isolation, loneliness, and the additional stress of working from home, being unemployed, caring for sick family members, children underfoot. I think you get it - I don't need to give you a laundry list. We are all experiencing record levels of unrelenting, chronic stress.
Did you know there are two types of stress? There is temporary (aka acute), or long-term (aka chronic).
Acute stress usually won’t mess with your health too much. It is your body’s natural reaction to circumstances, and can even be life-saving. It goes into mode when we have to deal with an immediate threat. Then, when the “threat” (stressor) is gone, the reaction subsides, and all is well. Your body goes back into homeostasis.
And there's long-term (chronic) stress. If these stress reactions are triggered every day or many times a day that unabated can mess with your health; which is what we are all experiencing these days.
Many of you know I don't watch TV news...I consider it very stressful, so I listen to the radio and only in small doses to know what is going on in the outside world. The repetitive, visual onslaught is something I can do without. And you may want to try this too - and note how you feel.
Stress (and stress hormones) can have a huge impact on your health. And the best way to deal with them is to a) recognize them and b) find better ways to manage them other than overeating or other negative lifestyle choices.
Let's dive into the "stress mess." This is what happens to your body on a "stress diet".
Mess #1 - Increased risk of heart disease and diabetes
Why save the best for last? Anything that increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes (both serious, chronic conditions) needs to be discussed. Stress increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes by promoting chronic inflammation, affecting your blood "thickness," as well as how well your cells respond to insulin.
Mess #2 - Immunity
Did you notice that you get sick more often when you're stressed? Maybe you get colds, cold sores, or even the flu more frequently when you are stressed? Well, that's because stress hormones affect the chemical messengers (cytokines) secreted by immune cells consequently, they are less able to do their jobs effectively.
Mess #3 - "Leaky Gut"
Stress can contribute to leaky gut, otherwise known as "intestinal permeability." These "leaks" can then allow partially digested food, bacteria or other things to be absorbed into your body. The stress hormone cortisol can open up tiny holes by loosening the grip your digestive cells have to each other.
Mess #4 - Sleep Disruption
More and more research is showing just how important sleep is for your health. Not enough sleep or fitful, restless sleep are equally bad for our overall health. I don't know about you but I have some really crazy dreams early in the morning, which I think are a direct result of stressful thoughts.
Stress and sleep go hand-in-hand, wouldn’t you agree? It’s often difficult to sleep when you have very important and stress-inducing things on your mind. When you don't get enough sleep, it affects your energy level, memory, ability to think, and mood. And, this in turn, affects your sleep quality as you get caught up in a vicious cycle.
What can we do about it?
Reducing stressors in your life is an obvious first step.
Put less pressure on yourself?
Ask for help?
Delegate to someone else?
Finally, make that decision?
No matter how hard you try, you won’t eliminate stress altogether. So, here are a few things you can try to help reduce its effect on you:
Deep breathing (check out my facebook page for how tos)
Meditation (check out my facebook page for how tos)
Walk in nature (check out my meetup page for future walks)
Unplug (read a book, take a bath, don't watch TV news, turn off your phone)
Exercise (yoga, tai chi, any kind of movement)
Connect with loved ones (call someone you haven't spoken to in awhile, you will be glad you did)
Stress is a huge and often underappreciated factor in our health. It can impact your physical body much more than you might realize. It has been shown to increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes, affect your immune system, digestion and sleep.
There are things you can do to both reduce stressors and also to improve your response to it.
You can ditch that stress mess!
In the meantime, try this relaxing chamomile tea:
Recipe : Chamomile Peach Iced Tea
1 cup steeped chamomile tea, cooled
1 peach, diced, fresh or frozen
Place both ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Add ice if desired.
Have a peachy week. If you like my post, please share!