Like most Americans, you undoubtedly deal with many demands each day, including family, finances, work, and even just trying to make it to the office on time.
While each of these demands stresses your body and brain somehow, the good news is that you are designed to handle it – well, at least to a certain level.
Long before excess stress was the result of project deadlines and computer issues, it was caused more often by the desire to stay alive and protect your family from wild animals and mortal enemies. This natural response to any threat coming your way is called the ‘fight or flight response.’ Basically, it is like a built-in alarm that goes off any time you encounter something your brain perceives as a threat.
How A Stress Response Works
When your brain sounds the alarm, what occurs is dumping hormones like adrenaline and cortisol from your adrenal glands located on your kidneys. These are the hormones that will literally save your life by increasing heart rate, elevating your blood pressure, and boosting your energy reserves. While adrenaline increases, your heart rate elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy reserves. Cortisol is busy getting more sugar into your body and brain to ensure you have the energy needed to survive this encounter while also putting other functions, like digestion and your immune system, on hold since they are not essential to getting you through a fight-or-flight situation.
Where It Goes Wrong
Your body’s fight-or-flight system is obviously supposed to be self-regulating, meaning that it turns itself off once a threat is no longer. The heart rate slows, blood pressure goes down, and glucose levels return to normal as the cortisol and adrenaline levels taper off. So, what if your fight or flight response system is continuously turned on? This is what occurs when you are constantly worried, nervous, edgy, or otherwise stressed day in and day out.
The side effect of this is that you also have a continuously higher level of cortisol and other stress hormones that can disrupt almost all the processes in your body. The result is an increased risk of specific health problems, including digestive issues, memory impairment, heart problems, depression, sleep deprivation, and weight gain.
Most stressed people find it harder to eat healthily and lose weight due to time constraints from their ‘mile a minute’ effort to get ahead. However, for some people, it goes beyond just taking shortcuts into eating in an attempt to fulfill emotional needs, which is often referred to as stress eating or emotional eating. And you may be most likely to eat high-calorie foods during these times, even when you’re not hungry.
To prevent weight gain and the other health conditions that come with prolonged levels of high stress, it’s important to learn healthy ways to control and cope with the stressors in your life. Keep in mind that what causes you to get stressed is very different from anyone else’s triggers. You undoubtedly have a few friends who are relaxed about almost everything and others who react energetically at the slightest stress. Most people fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
How to Take Charge
One of the facts of life are stressful events. You can take steps to manage the impact these events have on you even though you may not be able to change your current situation. This begins with identifying what stresses you out and then from there, fix or get rid of the stressors you have control over, and learn to cope better and manage those that you can’t. Stress management strategies include:
- Eating a healthy diet with no fast food and minimal sugar
- Getting regular exercise – even a 30-minute walk
- Accept the facts that you cannot control some events
- Don’t be passive, defensive, and angry. Instead, assert your beliefs, opinions, or feelings
- Get plenty of sleep and rest – this will give your body enough time to recover from events that are stressful
- Practicing relaxation techniques – give Yoga, Massage, meditation, or tai-chi a try
- Spending time with positive friends and family
- Don’t rely on compulsive behaviors, drugs, or alcohol to reduce stress
- Having a sense of humor
- Keep a positive attitude
- Learn to manage your time more effectively
The less control you have over the events and situations in your life that stimulate stress, the more likely you will feel the adverse effects over time, even if you don’t realize its impact on your body. Even the typical day-to-day demands of living can contribute to your body’s stress response. Though it’s cliché to say you only get one body and one life and being proactive about controlling the stress you can influence and coping with those you can’t will help you improve both significantly.