We hear a lot about stress. But does it really affect our bodies? I mean, is it part of chronic illness and chronic health? My answer is an absolute yes! Stress plays a significant role in our ability to heal, our ability to thrive, and our ability to get well. In this blog, I will discuss some things that cause stress in our lives and how stress affects our health.
The first one is that stress affects digestion. Have you ever eaten and then gone out for a run? Or have you ever eaten, and something happened that the food in your gut didn't feel good? You feel sick, bloated, and awful. Maybe you experience that every day, which could mean you are stressed out. Stress inhibits your body's ability to digest because all your blood goes to your brain and your muscle so your body can decide what it needs to do. Does it need to run? Does it need to freeze? So that's one of the ways that stress affects your body's ability to heal. If you can't digest, you can't absorb nutrients. The food sits in your gut and creates a lot of toxicity that leads to constipation, diarrhea, or other conditions that will impair your body's ability to thrive and heal.
Another way stress impacts your health is that it weakens your immune system. When we have these high-stress levels, inflammation is chronically activated, and the immune system gets tired. It's kind of like if you have kids or if you've ever had that person in your that talks non-stop all day long. And it just drains the body. Stress does the same thing, and it weakens our immune function because we hear the same thing repeatedly, but our body's not processing it. Then, it activates different pathways that keep our immune function activated chronically, and when it's activated chronically, it gets tired and worn out.
A third way stress affects our body is by activating this inflammatory cascade. People often think of inflammation as related to an injury, trauma, or a toxin. But guess what? Inflammatory processes are all the same, no matter what the stimulus is. So when there's constant stress, that same inflammatory cycle is at work, producing chemicals that down-regulate that impact on our immune function. They suppress it, affect our GI system, and are toxic to us. When our cells are damaged, we can't make energy adequately.
The fourth way stress affects our body is that it affects our sleep. How many of you at night have your mind racing and questions going through your mind? What if this? What if that? What happens if? It can be a nightmare, literally because we're not sleeping. So our sleep is greatly affected; if we can't sleep, our body cannot recover. If we can't recover, then all these other functions of digestion and the immune system, and so many of these other things in the body, don't get to rest, they don't get to repair, so we stay in this chronic state of inflammation.
So is it essential to de-stress? Absolutely!
For all of those reasons. So what are some ways to do that? How do we get stress out of our life? I find that one of the things stress causes is fear because it's unknown. And anything strange often drives that fear. One of the things that will lead us from fear to love is gratitude. It is looking at the things we're most grateful for in our lives. I find that writing them down can be very calming because we're not only kinesthetically experiencing that as we write them. We are writing it, but we're seeing it. We may even say it to ourselves. So now we're hearing it as well. And the more stimuli we engage, auditory, kinesthetic, the actual writing of it, or listening to it. If we're talking about it, the more of those we engage, the more it gets into our nervous system and helps us calm down.
I find that nature is another way. Go outside, put your feet on the earth, ground and let all of that good energy from the earth penetrate your body and allow it to come. Breathwork is another one. When you're in that state of panic, you start to change your breathing. Right? So breathing more, deep breathing from the belly, and breathing from the diaphragm, are super important.
Now you may be saying, those are all great, but I can't even get into that state. So, one of the other significant things I find in changing your state is doing things you love and making you feel secure. What do you love doing? Do you love music? Do you love writing? Do you love hiking or biking? Any of those things you love can change that state of chronic panic into a sense of security.
But what if you can't do any of those things? I find that touch and verbal are essential. I may say some things like if I'm in the state of what if? And all these questions are just cycling and spinning. I will stop, and I'll say stop! And I smile. Smiling's huge. You'll start laughing, and your body will release cortisol. Oxytocin comes up, and dopamine comes up. It makes you feel better, so smiling. When was the last time you intentionally smiled and kept smiling until you thought of something funny? Smiling has a significant impact on reducing stress.
So stop, smile, breathe, and then say something like I am magnificent. I am amazing. I am love. I am so grateful for these things. That touch that sensation will help calm the body. Then we have a new emotion in place, and those higher emotions, those higher quality emotions, will allow us to calm down.
Is stress overrated when it comes to chronic illness and health? No. Stress is one of the main contributors to a chronic health state. And as we do these things, address this, and work on de-stressing ours, we'll find that our body is much better able to handle the burdens placed upon us. And as we are going through our healing process, anything that we are doing is going to be more effective.
If you are having trouble with stress and don't know where to start, contact me at Total Body Wellness, and I will be able to help you manage stress.