We’ve all heard how stress is bad for your health but some of us don’t even know we are stressed. How stressed you feel can be different to how much your body is able to deal with stress. We’ve created an efficient and technologically advanced society that is packed with plans, ideas, thoughts and experiences, so that resting with nothing to do or think about is almost awkward or feels unnatural.
>> Try this stress test designed by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-24756311
Fight or flight
Your body can adapt incredibly well to our fast pace life in order to face that important interview, make sure the job is done, catch the train, deal with the accident, worry about a loved one or whatever it is that takes you out of your comfortable zone. This is called the ‘fight or flight’ response and was originally designed by nature to help man either fight or run away from danger.
Energy – Stress - Energy
To face these daily stressors in life you need energy, which can come from food. Once faced with danger, the body slows down any body systems that aren’t needed for surviving so that all energy is focused on dealing with the stress. This means that you could slow down your digestive system or your immune system or other functions in the body but not your heart pumping of course because you can almost hear that going when you’re stressed! Your ability to deal with stress is only meant for a short time so when you are continuously stressed then your body may not function optimally. For example, you may not get adequate nutrients because your digestion is not working optimally, or your immune system might not be as resistant to colds as it normally is. Long term stress can eventually lead to other health conditions for example studies have also shown that there may be a link between stress and the level of pain felt (1), however, this and many health conditions can depend on many other diet and lifestyle factors.
De-stress Kit Ideas:
- Physical - Diaphragm breathing used in yoga or meditation can help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which can increase digestion and help the body to relax (2). Try 15 minutes a day.
- Psychological - Take 5 minutes at the beginning and end of the day to close your eyes and think of a happy or peaceful moment. Studies show that positive thinking and meditation can help to reduce stress (3).
- Biochemical – Stress is mainly controlled between the hypothalamus and pituitary glands in the brain and the adrenal glands, which sit on top of your kidneys. They release hormones in response to stress and there are numerous nutrients to ensure the body can adapt or recover from stress. See a qualified nutritional therapist for recommendations on how to optimise your individual nutrient intake to support your stress response (4).
- Social – A study showed that stress increased health risks, but this risk was reduced when people spent some of their time helping others (5). Donate, volunteer or help your family or friends when you can.
Is there such thing as healthy stress?
Can stress ever be perceived as healthy? Perhaps a little stress can push us to our full potential? A study concluded that there was a difference between perceiving stress as a positive or negative process and those who perceived it as negative had a higher health risk (6). So, could it be that choosing to react to certain stressful situations in a positive way may contribute to a healthier life? Why not try and see?