Daily life for most Americans is demanding and stressful between family, money, job, and even commuting. Regardless of how stressful daily life can be, the human body is designed to handle… to a certain extent.
From the beginning of humanity, people have been feeling stress. The fight or flight response comes from a time where people were worried about animals, enemies, and weather and fighting to stay alive. The fight or flight response is a built-in alarm that signals perceived threats in any form to the brain.
Why do we have stress responses?
When the brain is triggered by a perceived threat, the body begins dumping hormones like adrenaline and cortisol from the adrenal glands which are in the kidneys. Adrenaline and cortisol will save your life by increasing heart rate, elevating blood pressure, and boosting energy reserves. When adrenaline increases, the heart rate can begin to elevate the blood pressure while increasing energy reserves. Cortisol works similarly by pushing sugar into the body and brain ensuring enough energy to survive the threat while decreasing the body’s ability to digest food and the immune system.
What can go wrong?
The body is designed for the fight or flight response to be self-regulating, which means it shuts down when the threat is no longer there. Once the perceived threat is gone, the body will slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure and the glucose levels will return to normal as cortisol and adrenaline begin to taper off. In our current society, oftentimes the fight or flight never goes away because the body is enduring unending stress. When the body is constantly worried, nervous, anxious and on edge, the body never returns to a “normal” level.
The side effect of constant stress is that the body begins to have a higher level of cortisol and other stress hormones that may disrupt many processes in the body. The result of this is an increased risk of health problems including digestion, memory, heart issues, mental health problems, sleep issues, and weight-related struggles.
Oftentimes people who are stressed find it hard to fit healthy habits into their daily lives, such as a healthy diet. Some may struggle to find time for self-care, exercise, and other shortcuts in order to fulfill some emotional needs. Emotional eating or stress eating can increase weight and make it harder to deal with stress.
To prevent weight gain, and other health conditions that come with prolonged levels of high stress, it’s important to develop healthy ways to handle and control stress in daily life. Each person processes life differently and may have different stressors.
How to take charge of stress
Stress is part of life, and learning how to manage stressors in a healthy and productive way can not only increase your mood, but also your overall health. Identifying stressors, removing stressors that you have control of and practicing mindfulness and other coping strategies can help. Finding a mental health professional to learn additional mental health strategies can enhance physical changes you take to decrease stress. Other stress management strategies include:
- Improving diet to include healthy choices, less “on the go” food.
- Exercising regularly, even if it’s just a quick walk.
- Turning off the cell phone and avoiding blue light before bed to enhance sleep
- Allowing yourself a full night’s rest every night
- Use relaxation techniques such as yoga, prayer, meditation, mindfulness
- Self-care and taking care of your body including chiropractic, massage and yearly medical checks
- Go outside and enjoy nature
- Find people who make you happy and spend time with them
- Avoid alcohol and drugs to cope with stress
- Keep a budget to manage financial stress
- Use an online calendar to keep your days managed
Long-term stress can begin to degrade the body over time. Even typical day-to-day stressors such as jobs, children, and commutes can lead to an increase of the body’s stress response. It’s important to remember that you only get one body, and you need to take care of it.