What is stress?
Stress is a state of mind that is initiated by perception – we see or hear something that could be or is a danger to us, and the brain receives this message. A ‘Danger Danger’ signal immediately causes the brain to respond. Within seconds, it orders the release of certain chemicals (adrenaline) by the adrenal gland, with the intention to prepare the body to either run away from the threat or fight it (‘fight or flight’ response). Energy is pumped into the limbs and heart, oxygen fuels the muscles to be able to react fast and strong. Another reaction can be ‘freeze’ – the person is not able to move at all (like possums in the headlight). Once the threat is over, the body rebalances with hormones (cortisol) to a relaxed state, and prepare for the next potential threat. This sequence is orchestrated by the ‘sympathetic’ part of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Once balanced to ‘normal’ the parasympathetic part of the ANS takes over. This part down-regulates bodily functions, eg it makes sure that the digestive system works, and all vital organs, to ensure the body is functioning perfectly. Short term stress is not harmful but ensures survival.
Exposure to long-term stress can create imbalances in the general wellbeing. Physically, we notice this as symptoms that may include fatigue, pain, hormonal imbalances, weight gain, digestive problems, cardiovascular problems, to name a few. As our society demands high levels of functionality at all times, we tend to overlook physical clues that the body is trying to give us to correct imbalances. Pain is a signal of the body saying ‘hey, look here, there is something wrong’. Instead of addressing the issue, we often suppress symptoms by taking pain killers, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, or steroid drugs. Although this may temporarily suppress the symptom, it doesn’t resolve the cause. Over time, we need stronger doses of medication, which itself has its own issues concerning side effects, and overload of the liver, which processes the ingested chemicals. Eventually, it is more and more difficult to maintain a busy lifestyle, and people start to resort to stimulants and relaxants (eg coffee, alcohol, recreational drugs). Depending on a person’s constitution, genetic predisposition and lifestyle, the crash will manifest with different signs and symptoms. The term ‘adrenal fatigue’ is used to describe a person who is no longer able to function, and is more o’ less bed ridden. Chronic fatigue sets in, together with various bodily dysfunction symptoms. ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) or chronic fatigue has debilitating and lifechanging consequences for a person affected by it.
What do do?
Sometimes, we don’t know where to start! It is like the chicken and the egg. The first thing to remember, is to breathe! Without oxygen, there is no life. First things first!! Breathing is usually very shallow – compare with a relaxed state of mind, or while practicing Yoga, Meditation, or walking in Nature. Lack of oxygen causes deficiencies in the organs and muscles, which is the precursor to pain and imbalances. Together with breathing we need to be AWARE that we are not breathing properly. Try it for yourself: whenever you find yourself in a stressed or agitated state, take deep breaths of air, slowly and deliberately. Notice the change.
Avoiding foods that compromise good health is a must. Avoid sugary drinks and foods, and consume plenty of green leafy vegetables, home cooked meals instead of takeaways or processed foods in a harmonious environment, drink enough water to keep you hydrated throughout the day, and reduce or avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea and alcohol, depending on the state of health you are in.
This is vital. These days, our circadian rhythm is disturbed by exposure to blue light (in computer and cell phone monitors), which tricks the body to believe it is day when it isn’t. For example, if you are exposed to the computer later than 8 or 9 pm, your body will be artificially kept in a waking state. Overriding the natural rhythm of hormones that tell us to sleep and wake will create a disturbance that often cannot be corrected quickly. Overthinking or worrying at night is common and creates that ‘I can’t fall asleep” comment. The symptoms of Cortisol excretion will have you wake between 1-3am. Having proper sleep with the phases that are important for the human body to rest and recharge solves many health problems! Leave your worries or the ‘to do’ list for the next day on a piece of paper. It helps!
Yes, it is important to exercise, however, these days we seem to be doing things to the extreme – we are either couch potatoes, or we are crazy ‘gym bunnies’. Neither is in balance. Sweating off stress on the treadmill might be a good thing, but also fuels the adrenals if it is overdone. Highly strung corporate people fall into that category. What is missing is the relaxation without stimulation of computers, books or other brain stimulants. Yoga, Meditation, Tai Chi, and particularly walking in nature contributes to the much needed balance.
What kind of thoughts are we predominantly focusing on? Are we present, eg in the ‘Now’? or are we constantly thinking about some event in the future. Or maybe we worry about something happening beyond our control? Whatever the case may be, the key of the matter is, we are not focusing what is happening right now, right here. The future is determined by the thoughts we have today. Being mindful of our focus is essential for the outcome. There are some wonderful books and DVDs available that explore this topic. Here are a couple of links that you might be interested in:
Emeran Mayer, MD: ‘The Mind-Gut Connection’.
How the hidden conversation within our bodies impacts our mood, our choices, and our overall health
Dr Bruce Lipton: www.brucelipton.com
Dr Wayne Dyer: www.dr.waynedyer.com
At Holistic Health, we offer mind-body therapies to assist you on your path to health and wellbeing.
- Online and in clinic counselling consultations
- Combined counselling and Bowen sessions to address both body and mind. Experience physical and mental relaxation after dissecting presenting traumas or seemingly unsurmountable issues that life throws at you. This helps to integrate changes and supports healing on all levels, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.