We live in a fast-paced world of urgency and impatience in a constant state of stress. While some stress is beneficial—optimal levels give us just the right degree of stimulation—the more common type of stress is an excessive and prolonged strain that can negatively impact fat loss, muscle gain, and even your immune system. Not surprisingly, it can also affect your sleep and your energy levels, causing fatigue.
Many people don’t consciously know they are in a state of stress, though the body provides clues. Some people get cold sores, catch a cold or flu, suffer from migraines, have difficulty sleeping, or develop skin irritations. Others can’t concentrate at work or school, have food cravings, experience low moods, or feel tired and fatigued.
To effectively combat stress, you need to be able to identify the signals your body gives as well as understand what is causing it. In general, the mental and physical texture of modern daily life is too fast, dense, and pressured, so we need to make a conscious effort to seek out relaxation. Finding the balance between rest and action, between letting go and going for it is our contemporary challenge.
NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF STRESS
The World Health Organisation highlighted just how detrimental the effects of stress can be, calling it “the health epidemic of the 21st century.”
Stress accelerates the aging process, reaching so deep into your body that it affects the DNA that contributes to it. Stress also accelerates the thinning of bones and increases the hardening of arteries, both of which typically occur with increased age.
Stress contributes to weight gain or makes losing weight difficult because it affects your cortisol, which is your stress hormone. When you are stressed, cortisol tells your body that food is scarce, so your metabolism slows down. When your metabolism slows down, you burn fewer calories, and fat loss becomes more difficult.
Stress damages the prefrontal cortex of your brain, which is responsible for planning, complex cognitive behaviour, personality expression, and decision making. Stress can create chemical and hormonal imbalances because it fatigues your body. Fatigue and these imbalances can alter your mood, which can then lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.
WHY STRESS AFFECTS YOUR BODY
Understanding your nervous system is critical to understanding the effects of stress and fatigue on your body. Your Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) control your response to and recovery from stressful events.
The SNS is your FIGHT OR FLIGHT response and is activated during stressful or high-arousal situations. The SNS can be beneficial, particularly in situations such as our ancestors experienced, like running away from predators while hunting.
The PNS, on the other hand, is responsible for REST, REPAIR, AND DIGESTION. The PNS performs the majority of its work as you sleep, restoring damaged tissues and cells.
Unfortunately, too many people now live in an environment where the SNS is continuously activated. Most of the high-arousal situations people face today are psychological in nature—there is no real physical danger, yet the body responds with the same level of stress as if there were. Stress-inducing situations can be as simple as a long line at the store or as complex as overdue bills creating financial pressures. Regardless of the case, maintaining a high-level response over a prolonged period creates physiological wear and tear and if not managed, can lead to more serious mental health issues.
STRESS MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES
To effectively manage stress, you need to learn how to activate your PNS so that your body can recover from the damage done by your SNS. Below are some ways to do so:
Meditation is the conscious effort to tune out from your environment for a period of time. It can be as simple as listening to calming music or counting your breaths before you fall asleep. There are also plenty of useful applications you can download on your phone to help you find meditative space: Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer, and The Breathing App.
Deep, abdominal belly breathing (diaphragm breathing) stimulates the vagus nerve, which is one of the main stimulators of a relaxation response. Your body does this naturally when you take a deep sigh. If you want to stimulate your PNS, create a practice of taking 10 to 20 deep sighs a day.
Yoga and Stretching
Both yoga and stretching help your body enter a state of calm and relieve any tension you are holding in your muscles. You can find an abundance of Yoga videos on YouTube for any time of the day, such as Yin Yoga before going to sleep.
Practicing gratitude helps with stress levels because it trains your brain to seek out and focus on positive thoughts, moments, and experiences. It can be as simple as compiling a list of things you have to be grateful for each day or creating a journal focused on positivity.
Stress can be an incredibly destructive force on human beings. Your body tells you when it is stressed, trying to warn you before further damage is caused. Listen to it, be mindful of your physical and mental self and practice ways of eliminating stress in your life to balance out your body and achieve optimal health. Let us help you get back on track by contacting us today.
Resources and further reading:
“Exhausted to Energised” by Dr. Libby Weaver