Chronic Stress is a hot topic among researchers, psychologists and the medical community. Turns out it’s for very good reason…
All of us at some point in our lives face challenging, stressful events that can hit us like a ton of bricks. Losing a loved one, going through a divorce or struggling with finances. It’s fair to say that stress is an inevitable fact of life that we all experience.
But let’s get one thing straight. Feeling stressed isn’t alllll bad. It can actually serve us when we’re under temporary pressure to do something or when we’re in danger. Our bodies under stressful circumstances “wake up” and go into protection mode. Otherwise known as the “flight or fight” response. When we enter this state our stress hormones, cortisol and adrenalin, release in our bloodstream so that we are ALERT and ready to fight off DANGER. What a wonderful adaptive function that’s helped us survive over the years!
So if stress isn’t all bad, what makes chronic stress so dangerous?
Stress no longer serves us when our bodies are continuously activated by being in the “fight or flight” response all the time. In other words, when we have elevated levels of cortisol and adrenalin pumping through our bloodstream our body gets overloaded! According to Dr. Richard Friedman, this causes our neurons to shrink, impacting our ability to concentrate. You know that feeling when you’re stressed and your brain feels a bit foggy? This can lead to major implications in all areas of our lives including our jobs, relationships, daily functioning and our ability to be present. Not surprisingly, chronic stress also impacts our sleep. Leading expert in stress, Dr. Herbert Benson, notes that the accumulation of chronic stress effects is linked to numerous illnesses including: heart problems, headaches, muscle pain, depression, anxiety and backaches. YIKES.
So what can you do about this?
First: take a personal inventory on all the things (small and big) in your life that produce stress – work, relationships, parenting, transportation, money, lifestyle etc etc.
Second: ask yourself, can I made any adjustments to these stress-inducing factors? Do you need to ask for more support in your life? Can you make any lifestyle changes to reduce these impacts?
Third: prioritize sleep! If you find yourself struggling to get enough sleep, it’s time to make this a priority. Set a goal to go to bed earlier, develop a relaxing bedtime routine and turn off all electronics before bed.
Fourth: develop a daily mindfulness ritual – a lot of our stress comes from our fears about the future and the unknown. By developing a mindfulness practice, we can connect to the present moment which studies show, reduces our stress hormones and produces relaxation.
Remember, that we all face challenges and experience stress. It’s how we choose to cope with, and manage, our stressful circumstances that influences the toll it has on our bodies.