Chronic exposure to stress and it’s negative effects
The average person tends to lead a very busy lifestyle, trying their best to achieve in every aspect of their life. Between trying to excel in your career, paying off never ending bills, keeping active and maintaining a social life, we can feel like we are in constant overdrive. Often people reach for stimulants like caffeine and feel they need that cup of coffee to keep going. Sound familiar? We expose our bodies to stress day in and day out, so much that it’s becoming the norm. You don’t necessarily have to feel the worst of it. You could in fact feel like you are smashing your goals, achieving in most parts of your life, but at the same time, you’re feeling tired and run down. We all know that too much stress can be detrimental to our health, but do you know why? From cardiovascular disease to cancer, hormonal health and mental health disorders, chronic exposure to stress can be the leading contributor to them all. Today I’m going to dig deeper into the effect that stress can have on us, the release of cortisol (the stress hormone) and what can happen when your body starts to ‘burn out’.
Cortisol is the hormone that is released in times of stress. It can be referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ hormone, as it helps to escape from what the body perceives to be as danger. Typically, levels are raised in the morning, helping us get out of bed and function as normal. Levels begin to decrease as the day goes on, but when we constantly expose our bodies to stressors, the levels stay above the ‘normal’ range, throughout. Stressors can be anything from a shitty boss, over-exercising, under eating and not getting enough sleep. Your body cannot tell the difference between any of the above and an actual bear coming to attack you. It only knows it must ‘fight or flight’ and so it stimulates the release of cortisol. By doing so, blood moves away from your extremities (hands, feet etc.) and travels to the brain. This allows you to make instant decisions, fleeing from the ‘danger’. This is why I previously mentioned not to eat while you’re stressed. The food will not be broken down effectively, as blood flow is diverted from the digestive system to the brain. This can cause digestive problems such as bloating and constipation.
The key to healthy hormones is to maintain the natural balance. If something is wrong somewhere, this can indicate an imbalance – for example, the sudden development of adult acne. The HPA (Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis is the hormonal system in which the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenal glands all interact. If the HPA axis is out of sync, it can have negative effects. This is a result of our bodies being in constant ‘fight or flight’ mode, from constant exposer to stressors. The chronic overstimulation of cortisol causes hormonal imbalances in the body, that can lead to a range of different problems. An individual can experience feelings of ‘burn out’ or ‘run down’, with symptoms like tiredness, insomnia, poor immune system function (colds & infections), acne, lower abdominal fat, low sex drive and amenorrhea (the loss of periods). Did you know this imbalance of hormones can also cause depression? Scary, isn’t it? At the same time, it is also amazing to know that something can be done to impact your mental health in a positive way. Having all these symptoms are not normal and we need to stop accepting that they are. Stop reaching for the caffeine and stop searching for ‘magic’ pills, lotions and potions. Your body is screaming at you to slow down and restore the natural balance, so please, start listening.
The ‘team no days off’ mentality just doesn’t work anymore. We need to stop taking on more than we can handle, slow down and learn to say ‘no’ if it affects our health. At the same time, I believe in hard work, so I think you know yourself if this doesn’t apply to you. However, if you’re like me and tend to overdo it, start prioritising what’s important to you. I’m beginning to see the importance of looking after your health and that less is most definitely more. Start doing more things that you enjoy, rather than things you feel you have to do. Stop waiting for the weekend to come around to unwind and make your daily routine that little bit less stressful and more enjoyable. Stop killing yourself and start putting both your physical and mental health first. Look after your body, because at the end of the day, you are all you have.