Is Stress Really Such A Big Deal?

We deal with it on a regular basis. We hear about it so much on the news, read about it in magazines and see it talked about online. Your doctor may even have spoken to you about controlling your stress. We’ve somewhat become immune to it, accepting it as a normal way of life.

Most people don’t realize the tremendous impact stress can have on our health. So, the answer to the question “Is stress a big deal?” is “Yes” - IF you care about your health.

As I always say, “common” doesn’t mean “normal.”

What Is Stress?

“Stress” is defined as “a physical, chemical or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation.”

Stress gets a bad rap, but not all stress is bad. Positive stress is a normal reaction to something exciting, like getting a new job, or buying a home.

But stress is also a natural survival technique that serves a means of protection. When stressful situations arise, your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) signals a “fight or flight response” compelling you to take action and avoid danger.

Just as the sympathetic nervous system turns on the “fight or flight response,” the opposite parasympathetic nervous system turns it off and helps your body conserve energy and go from “fight or flight” to “rest and digest” which is critical for your well-being.

Unfortunately, in today’s fast-paced society, while we’re all running around in panic mode from everyday worries, we stay in “fight or flight” mode ignoring “rest and digest.”

Being in constant "flight or fight" mode puts us under chronic stress which then disrupts the natural balance we need for optimal health. Chronic stress prematurely ages us and compromises our immune system making us susceptible to illness and disease.

What Causes Stress?

Disagreements, divorce, work, finances, illness, death, moving, a new baby, traffic, social media, always being connected, overtraining (exercising too much), food intolerances - the causes of stress are endless.

It’s easy to minimize the amount of stress you’re under partly because you may not even be fully conscious of some of the things that are causing you stress.

We’ve become so wired to multi-task, that all too often we take on more than we can handle. Our to-do list continues to grow, our phones are always buzzing with the latest push notification and our minds never completely shut off.

What Happens In Your Body When You’re Stressed

When you encounter a perceived threat, for example, a large dog barks at you during your morning walk, our hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located on top your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.

Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system, and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation, and fear.

The long-term activation of the stress-response system - and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones - can disrupt almost all your body’s processes.
— The Mayo Clinic

When you always in “fight or flight” mode; i.e., chronic stress, your adrenal glands have to work in overdrive to manage cortisol and your other hormones. Chronic stress disrupts almost all your body's processes and put you at increased risk for problems, like:

  • nutrient deficiencies due to your body's inability to absorb nutrients from food 
  • reduced gut flora (the ‘good’ bacteria)
  • increased levels of cortisol (which decreases the hormones that naturally regulate your appetite)
  • lowered metabolism and increasing fat storage 
  • increased oxidative stress (which causes premature aging)

Which then can ultimately lead to:

  • Adrenal fatigue
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Anxiety + Depression
  • Digestive distress
  • Heart disease
  • Weight gain
  • And more

Chronic low-grade inflammation sets in which sets the stage for autoimmune conditions, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer, and other chronic diseases.  

How Is Stress Affecting YOU?

Did you realize that stress could wreak so much havoc? Pretty astonishing!

But the good news is that there’s something you can do about it!

Of course, it’s not realistic to eliminate all stress, but there are plenty of things you can do to manage it.

The first step is deciding that it’s important enough to do. Once you make managing your daily stress load a priority, here are five techniques you can do to reduce it:

1 | Plan your schedule using a daily or weekly planner:

You can use a physical planner (like this one that I’m currently using) or an app on your phone like Google calendar, Trello or Smartsheet (ones I currently use). Having some form of organization can help you keep a full picture of all the things you have on your plate and give you a realistic view of what if anything you can take on, or need to say “no” to.

2 | Prioritize your tasks and focus on one thing at a time:

There used to be a time when the “ability to multitask” was an attribute everyone had on their resume. But in reality, focusing on too many things at once can add to your stress level and cause unproductivity because trying to do too much at once, usually results in nothing being accomplished at all.

3 | Delegate tasks when possible:

Don’t try to be the hero (or the martyr) at the expense of your well-being. Delegate tasks not only at work but also at home.

4 | Declutter your space:

Create a peaceful environment at home and where you work.

5 | Practice calming activities like meditation and exercise:

If you’re like me and find it hard to “quiet your mind” for meditation, apps like Calm, Headspace or my personal favorite, “Rituals” can make meditation meaningful.

Exercise can also be a form of meditation.

And don’t estimate the power of the breath. When you start to feel overwhelmed and go into overdrive, the power of a pause and some deep breaths can do wonders to calming your nerves, making things feel a little more manageable.

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Naomi Nakamura is a certified Holistic Health Coach who takes a holistic approach through functional nutrition. Through her weekly show, The Live FAB Live Podcast, coaching programs, and safer skincare solutions, she helps people with acne and other chronic skin issues clear up their skin by teaching them where food meets physiology and how food, gut health, stress, and toxins are intricately connected to the health and appearance of our skin. Naomi resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and can often be found romping around the city with her puppy girl, Coco Pop! Connect with Naomi at: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest.