Chronic Stress and its Toll on Your Health

By: | Tags: | Comments: 0 | February 25th, 2016

bear!I’ve noticed recently that there is a running theme in my posts:
Stress affects your health.
The body’s stress response was important during our evolution as humans–for instance, if we were cave people running from bears (a favorite example I give to people in my office).  The body’s fight/flight  response would boost cortisol and adrenaline so in the short term blood would rush to the extremities, allowing for a quick escape.  This automatic response also shuts down your other system–the feed/breed system. You shouldn’t be breeding, digesting or sleeping for that matter if a bear is chasing you, amiright?
Hopefully, there are no impending bears in your life.  But your brain has a hard time determining what a “bear” is.  A fight with a loved one, a huge project at work, a rigorous workout, a traffic jam that seems unending–your brain may be reading those external factors as BEARS!–and flip the fight/flight switch.
“I’m handling my stress.  Other people might be stressed–but I’ve GOT THIS.”  I hear this a lot in my clinic.  But even though you feel like you are rolling with it, doing just dandy–your brain may have just permanently flipped your fight/flight switch and now you are running on reserves, tapping your adrenals, your cortisol levels ever-rising.

 

Signs of increased cortisol levels include:
  • recurring headaches and backaches (high cortisol increases prolactin, which increases your body’s sensitivity to pain)
  • insomnia
  • weight gain, especially around your midsection (gotta store food if the bear is constantly chasing you!)
  • fatigue even when you do get a good night’s sleep
  • sugar cravings
  • catching colds easily
  • depression
  • low sex drive (I’m sure there are some folks who would love to get it on with a bear watching, but most want to share that experience with their partner only!)
Here is a link to how chronic stress affects the body in more detail: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml
So, what can you do about it? Stress reduction techniques, of course, including acupuncture!
  • Meditation and mindfulness. Yup, there’s an app for that.  Actually several. Circle and Bloom is a great one for people experiencing infertility, and Mindfulness Coach was developed specifically for Veterans.  If you can’t find one that suits you, contact me and I will recommend one to you!
  • Acupuncture! I call it forced meditation.  You can’t help but sort through your day when you have needles in you and can’t move for 30 minutes. Most people find acupuncture treatments relaxing, but even if you don’t, the needles will work their magic on your nervous system, dropping cortisol levels significantly.
  • GET OUTSIDE. Walking to your car doesn’t count.  Take a walk in a local park on a walking trail, surrounded by trees.  If you can’t do that, go out in your back yard and find some dirt.  Dig a hole big enough to stand in, pour some water (warm water preferable) on the dirt, take off your shoes and put your feet in the mud for 20 minutes.  It feels awesome!!!  It sounds hippy-dippy, but your connection with the earth is important, and literally grounding.
  • Get a furry friend.  I’m a dog person, and can’t imagine not having them around.  But, cats are wonderful as well, and are great cuddlers.  Heart rates and cortisol levels drop the minute you pet an animal.  Who wouldn’t want an excuse to hang out with a sweet friend that loves you unconditionally?
  • Yoga.  Here’s a link to a boring study that showed a link between yoga and lowered cortisol levels: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3768222/ 
Most importantly, be aware.  Notice when your body starts to become stressed.  When you start reaching for sugar or caffeine more often than not, when your sleep cycle is disrupted, when indigestion strikes…take charge!  Come see me or try one of the techniques listed above.
Take care!  –KJ

 

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