Chronic stress is the #1 cause of chronic disease. It is a driver of inflammation and is a contributing factor in six major leading causes of death like cancer, coronary heart disease, asthma and other respiratory ailments, cirrhosis of the liver. As well, it is a major contributing factor for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, irritable bowel syndrome, and more. We have known all of this for years and honestly, our stressed out state keeps getting worse.
Physiologically speaking, chronic stress stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) over and over and our body never gets a parasympathetic state (rest and digest). If we are constantly in fight or flight mode, constantly running from the tiger (ie the stress inducing circumstances in your life), it can cause high blood pressure, high blood sugar (due to cortisol production, because remember, we need it to run from the tiger), low sex drive, muscle tension (affecting breathing), shutdown of reproduction (fertility problems), lowered immune response, etc.
BUT we need stress for our body to function well. Acute stress in our body is a GOOD thing. It gives us energy, motivation, boosts levels of oxytocin (the cuddle hormone), it helps build our RESILIENCY. Stress has been made the bad guy (even by me) because of the harmful effects of chronic stress; however, what if by making it the bad guy are causing more harm than good? What if stressing about our stress levels actually makes things worse?
There was a massive study that looked at 30,000 participants and their relationship with stress, how their body perceived that stress, and how that affected health outcomes. Using data from the National Health Interview Survey they were able to conclude that the risk of premature death was increased in those people who had a high level of stress AND believed that stress would adversely affect their health. “Specifically, reporting a lot of stress and perceiving that stress affected one’s health a lot increased the risk of premature death by 43%.” (1) What is even more telling about this study is that the category with the lower risk of death was those experienced a HIGH amount of stress but they did not believe it was harmful to their health. Even when compared to those with little or no stress, their risk of death was LOWER. It might not be feasible for someone to quit their high stress job, or change the circumstances of our lives that induce stress. But if we change the way our body perceives those circumstances and that stress, then we can reduce the chronic stress response that incurs and then causes massive harm to the body long term. Why not do BOTH? Why not work to change the way our body perceives stress AND try to reduce the stress in our lives?
Here are three FREE things you can DO:
1 | Deep breathe for FIVE MINUTES twice daily. I am talking about a full five minutes, friends. Use the calm or meditate app. Set a timer and put on music. Whatever you do TAKE DEEP BREATHS. This decreases inflammation and helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).
2 | Start changing your perception of stress. Look at the circumstance as a challenge and not a problem. This doesn’t happen overnight. Start with your thoughts on the matter, speak words like “This is challenge before me. This will strengthen my resolve and make me a better person.” It sounds cheesy, but the more often you say it to yourself, the more you will believe it, then your body begins to believe it too.
3 | Go outside. Lay down on the grass, it can be at home or at a park, and LOOK UP. Just lay there for a few minutes. Then take your shoes off (yes, I want you barefoot) and walk around on the grass. A study from 2012 found that earthing improves heart rate variability (good thing), improves sleep, helps balance the autonomic nervous system, and reduces stress levels. By doing these three things (shoot for every day, even if it is raining, that could be fun ;) ),we are reducing stress levels AND working to change the way our body perceives the stress. Be consistent for a month and come back and tell me how you feel. If you stick with it daily for a month, I can almost guarantee you will feel better.
We have to start somewhere on our journey to WELLNESS.
Might as well start HERE and start NOW.
1.Keller, A., Litzelman, K., Wisk, L.E., Maddox, T., Cheng, E.R., Creswell, P. D., Witt, W.P. “Does the Perception that Stress Affects Health Matter? The Association with Health and Mortality” Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3374921