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The Stress Mess

We all have some level of stress in our daily lives, wouldn't you agree? Between the uptick in Covid (new variant) and the January 6 hearings, and of course, our own hormonal ups and downs, we may be experiencing a real hot mess right now.

We can’t do anything about the new variant or the hearings, but we can take action with our own health and that means learning to manage your stress levels, which impact you physically and mentally.

But first, 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 you may be experiencing these days. Monitor your stress throughout the day and take note of how often this is happening. You could be on your way (or already there) to coping with chronic stress.

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.

Many of you know I don't watch TV news...I consider it very stressful. Instead I listen to the radio and only in small doses to know what is going on in the outside world. And I have incorporated listening to classical music as well, especially when I am working on a project and want to stay focused, at work or at home. You may want to try this too - and note how you feel.

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.

Can you:

  • Put less pressure on yourself?

  • Ask for help?

  • Say "no"?

  • 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 - try to breathe in for 4 breaths, hold for 7, breathe out for 8, any time you feel stressed. Do this 4 times and notice the shift in how you feel. Better?

Meditation - I am a big fan and practice every day. Try this super-short meditation today. It is only 2 minutes long. You can do it.

Walk in nature - some call it decompressing, others "forest-bathing". Whatever, get outside in the sunshine, check out the creatures you meet along the way (deer, chipmunks, squirrels, and birds) and smile at those you pass. It will change your state, promise.

Unplug (read a book, take a bath, don't watch TV news, turn off your phone) - I know it is hard for some of you to do, however, for your own health, please try this at least once this week. Be amazed at how you feel when you do something different.

Exercise (yoga, tai chi, any kind of movement) - take a walk and notice how more energetic and less stressed you feel when you "unhunch" your body and move through space.

Connect with loved ones (call someone you haven't spoken to in a while, you will be glad you did) - sometimes we just need to get out of our own head, right?

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.

So you see, there are always things you can do to both reduce stressors and to improve your response to it. You can ditch that stress mess!

In the meantime, try this relaxing chamomile tea on a hot July afternoon:

Recipe: Chamomile Peach Iced Tea

Serves 1

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!

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