Dealing with Chronic Stress

I am going to assume that most of us cannot change the major circumstances contributing to our stress levels, at least right away. Pressures from jobs, finances, family, etc will never obliterate completely. That said, 45% of our happiness is controlled by our own reaction to stress, and only 10% of our happiness is actually a direct result of tangible circumstances. Luckily, good nutrition can actually lighten the load.

The neurotransmitters responsible for making us feel good are depleted and resistant over time if overstimulated. Creating this affect are things like high glycemic carbohydrates, protein deficiency, heavy metal toxicity, low B vitamins, low omega 3 fatty acids, low estrogen, and stimulant use. The point? Eating right during times of heavy stress can set you up for resiliency, while giving yourself a free pass on sweets can create a biological downward spiral. Sound familiar?

For me, this is all the explanation I need to stay on track and away from self-sabotage. Of course, there are other great coping mechanisms–I thought I’d start with diet as a very important first step.

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How Chronic Stress Affects the Body: A Reminder

I would love to say that I am writing this from my yoga mat while deep breathing and inhaling lavender, but, really, this list is to convince all readers AND myself that, indeed, stress is a serious health disruptor.

 

1. The Gut. Everything from secretions, motility, permeability, sensitivity, blood flow, and healthy flora is affected in the gut when we stress. It goes way beyond “butterflies in the stomach,” in other words. 

 

2. Performance. Things like memory function are hugely affected by stress, as well as concentration and focus, but, what’s worse is the actual damage that brain cells incur from it.

 

3. Immunity. I hate being sick and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone on that one, but stress can both weaken the immune system and overstimulate your immune response, resulting in inflammation which is the cause of most modern-day disease and overall sub par health levels.

 

4. Fat deposition. What a bummer. If it isn’t enough that we are freaking out about life already, our body rebels even further by putting fat right where we’d like it the least: around the midsection.

 

5. Addiction. We tend to become stress junkies once the whole process begins. The way in which we respond to stress–eating processed foods, staying late at work, exercising too little (or too much), caffeine-binging, or drinking–creates even more problems and perpetuates the cycle.

 

The take-home point? Stress is serious. We live in a world where, sadly, stress is brushed aside and even revered in the guise of being busy or having a good work ethic. All of us, myself included, need to find ways to cope a little bit better.