Previously, we talked about the differences between eustress and distress. Today however, we are going to discuss some of the sources that cause stress and how our bodies respond to it. So let's get started.
In today's society, there are many factors that can cause us to feel stressed. The primary things that stress people out are financial instability, unhappiness with one's job position, or a heavy school work-load. Other things that can stress people out are natural disasters, loss of a family member, or being involved in a car accident. But aside from what can cause us stress on the outside, we can be stressed on the inside as well. Unrealistic expectations, fear of the unknown, and consistent worrying wear on us mentally and that can cause us to feel physically exhausted as well. Regardless of whether these stressors are internal or external, our bodies respond to stress in the same way. Below, we we'll highlight some characteristics of the body's stress response:
- Heart rate increase
- Blood pressure increase
- Increased muscular tension
- Accelerated breathing
- Release of cortisol into blood stream***
One way to imagine the way stress affects us is the anticipation of getting on a roller coaster ride. While standing in line, we may feel the excitement running through our bodies. Our adrenaline levels start to increase and our heart starts pounding the closer we get to the front of the line. Finally, we get on the ride, enjoy the thrills, and after it is finished we get out and our bodies return to its normal state. However, what happens if we never got on that ride and stay in that constant state of stress? Well, no doubt it will have negative impacts on our health. You may have noticed we put the word cortisol in bold when listing the characteristics of stress response. Cortisol is a major contributing factor to the health problems we experience with prolonged stress.
Cortisol: What is it?
Simply put, cortisol is the body's natural stress hormone. It is released when we enter the fight-or-flight response system in our bodies. Its works with the brain to control different aspects such as our fears and motivations. Below we will list some of the specific functions of cortisol in the body:
Functions of Cortisol:
- Increase blood sugar
- Increase blood pressure
- Aids in memory retention
- Triggers release of adrenaline
- Reduces inflammation
- Regulates sleep/wake cycle
- Boosts energy
- Manage the way we use carbs, proteins, and fats
As you can see, cortisol has a big role to play. There are times when we have jobs or circumstances that are so demanding that we have to act fast and efficiently or else a major problem may arise. Sometimes need an adrenaline rush to get work done quickly and to think through problems at a faster rate than normal. That is where cortisol comes to play by aiding in memory recall and retention and boosting productivity overall. While it has very useful and important short-term benefits, it can be dangerous to our health if we have high levels of it in our bodies for a prolonged period of time.
Cortisol's Long Term Effects
Because cortisol is released when we initiate the body's fight-or-flight response, it is meant to be a temporary performance boost. However, if it is in our bodies day in and day out for a long time, we begin experiencing negative effects. Some of these include:
- Chronic Fatigue
- Decreased Immune System
- Decreased Metabolism
- Hunger (sweet & salty food cravings)
- Muscle Weakness
- Sleep Deprivation
- Weight Gain
And the list goes onnnnn! So time out. Think about this list for a minute. All of the things on this list come from high cortisol levels which stems from what? STRESS!!! This is the reason why stress is so bad for us. And because our bodies respond to internal and external stress the same way, it is crucial that we keep our stress under control. Sadly, people may experience some of the symptoms that we mentioned earlier and feel the need for a doctor's visit. They end up getting prescribed a pill that will cover up the symptoms without eliminating the core problem. Sometimes the pill that they are prescribed ends up having side effects for which another pill is needed. This creates a never ending cycle that never had to be started in the first place. Now, this isn't to say that all pharmaceuticals are bad. They certainly have their place in treating people. However, when it comes to actually eliminating our problems, there is often a natural remedy for that. With that being said, we are finally at my favorite part in the discussion. HOW DO WE GET RID OF STRESS?!?! With sooo many different methods it won't be something we can cover in just a few blog posts. That is why I'm gearing up to get some videos and other presentations to make learning about stress relief a fun experience. So without further ado, let's learn how to DE-STRESS!!!!