What is stress? I think this is the first question that needs to be answered. But it’s not as easy as a dictionary definition because there are multiple facets to stress. There is the mental side of stress, the physical, metabolic and hormonal sides to stress.
Let’s break all these down and have a look at what does what. But first let’s have a go at defining stress. A simple google search reveals this one. “A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances” For me though there are more than just an emotional strain or tension. There are lots of factor that feed into being in a stressed state. I classify sources of stress into the following.
- Emotional stress (finances, work, kids, partners, car, moving house, bereavements etc.)
- Physical and mechanical stress (injuries, poor posture, muscle pain and tightness)
- Metabolic stress (IBS, low stomach acid, leaky gut, insulin resistance, diabetes, under or overactive thyroid)
- Radiation stress, mostly with pilots and cabin crew, phone data/Wi-Fi exposure, microwaves, gamma waves and patients going through chemotherapy
- Exercise is also a form of stress that people forget about
- Hunger is also a type of stress as is being in an overfed state
- Lack of sleep will also contribute to stress and inflammation markers rising
So as you can see it’s not just about that feeling of pressure and/or being overwhelmed.
How Stress Operates In The Body
Stress itself is a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol will cause a lot of different other reactions to occur in the body. A few of us have heard the story of the woman who lifted a car of a child as a result of a stress response. Cortisol is also need to start the healing process, it triggers a sequence of events that helps the body to heal.
This is how the cascade works.
The stress response (the bottom box) here is to release stored sugar from the liver. Send that stored sugar out to the limbs that will be used for running or fight as fuel. As well as to the eyes and brain for increased and heightened perception skills. In this process blood and essential nutrients are shifted away from other processes in the body. This means that digestion will shut down and things like sexual function to the bottom of the priority list. You’ll know when your digestion is shutting down because you start getting a dry mouth. A lack of saliva is the first sign of potential dehydration and digestion shutting down, meaning you’re going through the stress response.
The role of stress in the body is to keep you alive and heal you from injury or infection. This series of events in itself isn’t harmful. The problems with stress occur when you can’t recover from the stress exposure. Something to remember about stress is that even a mental stimulus will set off the same physical cascade as being a physical stress. Your body is programmed to respond to loud noises, potential threats from other humans and animal threats.
Stress will increase your blood pressure, increase blood sugar, increase insulin to get that blood sugar into the cells and also raise the inflammation response.
As you can see the job of stress is to prioritise survival. Issue occur when you keep slamming your body with stressors. And those come in all the forms listed above.
The Bodies Recovery From Stress
Once the stressful experience has finished ideally your levels of cortisol in the blood will return back down to baseline. Then you’ll go back into your rest and digest state where your body begins to repair any damage that you may have sustained. This is also known as a parasympathetic state, being in that fight or flight mode is known as being in the sympathetic state. Sympathetic dominance has been known to cause all kind of heart issues. As well as blockages in the arteries and veins known as atherosclerosis.
It’s important that after a stressful event you’re able to calm down. If you’re struggling to calm down and you don’t clear out all the blood sugar and insulin it can start to be inflammatory. Insulin is one of the most anabolic (building) hormones in the body. Here is the problem we face in modern day stressful situations.
Think back to caveman days, if a predatory animal jumped out of the bushes on you. You’d kick off the stress response in split seconds. You’d flood the body with adrenaline, sugar and insulin. You’d set a world record for a sprint distance and you’d use all that fuel.
Now picture you’ve got into work and there is an email from your manager that says “I need to talk to you”. Your body releases the same hormones, the fuel reserves ready for you to run or fight. Trouble is you do neither, so you have all this blood sugar all this insulin ready to be used as fuel. But there is no activity that you do which uses that fuel. It’s like you’ve prepped a formula 1 car with some real high octane fuel. But then the car just sits in the pits.
One the best recommendations I give to people who are subject to small frequent stressors in their day is exercise. Actually using that fuel that’s built up in your system is a great way to clear it out and actually destress. Breathing and taking headspace for yourself is also a great way to destress your body from stress hormones.
Long Term Stress Issues
If you’re constantly bombarded by stress and you’re not engaging in an active lifestyle the consequences are massive.
Let’s have a look at what chronic means. Chronic is a measurement of time not of severity. This is looking at long term stress exposure and the consequences. Purely from a physical internal point of view. What’s not highlighted here is the inflammation, inflammation feeds stress and stress feeds inflammation. It’s a shitty cycle that if you don’t know how to break it, can last for years and years.
I can tear apart your gut lining and actually kill off the bacteria and cell walls of your intestines. Which in turn leads to digestive complications and insulin resistance.
There is also the issue that increased stress stimulus also stops your body converting thyroid to its active form. When this happens you can present signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism. Things like weight gain, cold hands and feet, no energy and only shitting once a week. This comes with its own set of issues like toxin reabsorption, bloating and issues with liver overload. Particularly if you’re eating shit.
When you look at the mental side of what excessive stress can do, it’s not a prettier picture. Stress and inflammation will degrade most single cell barriers. In the brain there is a whole network of single celled barriers. Once these barriers start breaking down in the gut and the brain. It’s much harder for you to actually produce the neurotransmitters that make you feel good and focused and also drift you to sleep.
Adding Stress Up
When you put together a mental or physical stimulus for stress. The flood of hormones, blood sugar and insulin that get released. The inflammation response that follows plus if you’re not active you have a melting pot of everything bad. Which in excessive dosages will cause you health issues. Both mental and physical.
The physical state will feed your mental state. The vagus nerve that runs from the gut to the brain is a communication highway. That gut feeling you have is a legit thing, and the gut and brain communicate all the time. The bacteria in your mouth have a communication system to the brain, and the brain will let the gut know what’s about to enter the system. When your mental state is in decline, you start to tell yourself that you’re not right. You tell yourself that you can’t get to the gym or go for that walk or run for some bullshit reason.
You’re stuck in a negative feedback loop, you have poor physiology in the body feeding a poor mentality. You need to break this loop by getting active. Even walking is enough, put some tunes on, get outdoors and be active. It doesn’t need to be strenuous, just to be taking your mind off things.
The Full Blown Effects
- Cell death (autophagy) but not good cell death, the death of cells that should be protective
- Increased blood insulin levels (hyperinsulinemia)
- Insulin resistance where you can’t get insulin into the cells. Due to stress and inflammation degrading the receptors. This a precursor to type 2 diabetes.
- Low thyroid symptoms of weight gain, low energy, low poop frequency, cold hands and feet.
- Poor digestion, it feels like your stomach bloats after you eat because your stomach acid potency is dropping. This is due to blood and energy being diverted to legs, arms, brain and eyes ready for a fight or run
- Depression, this could as a direct result of neural pathways degrading through stress. Or because of number 7
- Low testosterone and sex drive. If your body is prioritising survival it’s not thinking about reproducing your genes. As such constant stress will kill your sex drive.
- Skin break outs are massively common with stress build ups. This is one thing that affects me personally.
- Pale skin is often a side effect of constant stress because your body is prioritising survival over skin pigmentation. This I explain in my blog all about thyroid hormone.
- Increased fat storage. If your body is always under stress it’s not sure if you’re prepping for famine, fighting or fleeing. Therefore your body will hold onto fat, water and sodium.
These are just the first 10 that pop into my head. There are many, many more conditions associated with chronic stress. But I’ll cover those in separate blogs.
Summit It All Up
Stress isn’t a bad thing, like most things where the body is concerned, the poison is in the dose. Stress in the right amount will actually help your body to heal up. It will help to wake you up in the morning and get you sexually aroused.
Stress is moderated will leave your mood stable, sex drive high and nice and clear in your mind. Stress running out of control will do the opposite. Check out my Ebook on stress and how to manage it here.
Here are my top 5 tips for helping to manage and reduce
- Exercise! It doesn’t need to be super intense, but get outdoors or to the gym and just move.
- Write down all your sources of stress and why they’re bothering you
- Breathe! I lay on the ground, shut your eyes and breath only through your nose for 5-10 minutes
- Stop eating excess sugars and processed foods. They can aggravate the gut and feed that inflammation and stress negative feedback loop
- Eat lots of green veggies and organic raised meat and fish as possible.
I hope this helps clear up stress a bit and why it’s important to get it under control. I’ll do more posts about stress because it a huge topic. Any questions as always fella’s fire them over by getting in contact today.