In a recent interview Dr Alan Christianson, an expert on adrenal fatigue and thyroid function, reported on a recent study which shows that the leading predictor of death, in many cases, is actually stress or in medical terms, “Cortisol Slope”.
In other words, stress is something we need to take very seriously!
This means that even though you may be eating a really healthy diet, not smoking and drinking minimal alcohol, if you are chronically stressed, it can have a very negative impact on your health and even shorten your life.
Stress is anything that we perceive as a threat, either to our safety, our security or our view of the world. And the key word here is “perceive”. One person can be in a perfectly safe, secure environment and feel very stressed, while another feels perfectly OK. The only difference is how those two people are viewing that situation. And that depends a great deal on their past experiences, as well as their thoughts, beliefs and expectations.
Scientists also distinguish between eustress (or good stress) – the kind that pushes us to do better or reach our peak performance – and distress (or bad stress). What we are talking about here is the bad stress.
The key to understanding why stress is dangerous for our long-term health lies in its impact on our physical body.
Anything, such as an action, an event or an experience, that we believe supports us immediately triggers our parasympathetic nervous system, which then releases a stream of neurotransmitters within our body that are designed to protect, nurture and restore the body.
Any action, event or experience that we perceive as a threat triggers our sympathetic nervous system, which releases another set of neurotransmitters such as cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine. This invokes our so-called “flight or fight response”, which sends blood away from the forebrain (where our thinking occurs) and channels it to the muscles to ready them for action. Our heart rate increases, our attention is focused on the threat so we’re not able to think clearly, and core functions like digestion and the immune system are shut down.
Obviously, if we are in a really dangerous situation where our life is threatened, shutting down non-survival functions in order to service our ability to fight or run is an excellent adaptation for survival.
The problem is that if we become stressed by a perceived, but non-survival-threatening, event and then remain that way over a prolonged period, that’s when stress really impacts our health. We continue on living with a heart that's working too hard, an under-functioning digestive system that is not able to absorb all the nutrients that we take in from our food, and an immune system that no longer protects us as it should. Stress is therefore one of the indicators for many of the autoimmune conditions that are so prevalent today.
Stress can even become so embedded in our way of functioning in the world that we don’t even realise that it’s there!
So what can we do about this kind of long-term chronic stress?
Lots actually! And I’ll be writing further on this in future blog posts.
But for now, here’s a quickie technique for when you’re caught in that intense feeling of being really stressed and need something to calm you down – fast!
Place one hand over your forehead and the other over the back of your head (directly behind the forehead).
Keep holding for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until the feelings of stress abate.
Remember to keep breathing!
In my next post I’ll explain how this works, but for now I invite you try this simple exercise and experience the benefits for yourself.
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