“I will breathe. I will think of solutions. I will not let my worry control me. I will not let my stress level break me. I will simply breathe and it will be okay because I don’t quit.” – Shane McClendon
Stress! It seems to be a rampant struggle in our world today. For so many, they deal with it almost daily. Our lives have become much busier and filled with multiple obligations, bills, activities and ever-increasing work responsibilities that it’s a normal response to feel overwhelmed. Our bodies are physiologically designed to withstand acute stress from time to time. Swerving to avoid a car crash, studying for an exam, finishing a project at work by the deadline, giving an important presentation or running from a mountain lion or a bear on a hiking trail. (Hopefully not that last one!) Chronic stress over many years, on the other hand, is catastrophic to our bodies and results in a variety of symptoms. Our bodies are always “speaking” to us telling us what’s going on. “Something’s not right and I’m definitely out of balance” it whispers to us. If we continue to ignore our bodies, it gets our attention later with more blatant symptoms. These symptoms may take months to years to fully develop. The long-term effects of stress adversely affects how our bodies are supposed to function properly. In some cases, this can lead to chronic illnesses if left untreated.
Listed below are common symptoms that indicate our bodies are overworked and need a much-needed respite from stress.
Chronic abdominal pain, heartburn and gastric or duodenal ulcers
Change in bowel movement regularity – looser stools, diarrhea or in some cases constipation
Headaches, muscle and body aches
Chronic anxiety and/or panic attacks
Depressed mood related to change in hormones, neurotransmitters, fatigue, poor sleep, unhealthy food choices and more.
Overreactive, anger, irritability and outbursts
Increased emotional sensitivity and crying
Ongoing fatigue, either in the morning or crash in the afternoon or early evening – all worsened by ongoing stress
Weakened immune system and increased risk of infections
Increased heart rate, palpitations; in extreme cases, chest pain
Eyelid and muscle twitching
Sleep disturbances and other circadian rhythm disorders with trouble falling and/or staying asleep
Hair loss and hair turning gray prematurely
Skin thinning, especially the face and around the eyes leading to dark circles
Weight gain, especially more abdominal fat
Irregular menstrual periods – either skipping monthly periods, early or delayed
Earlier onset of perimenopausal/menopausal symptoms and early Andro-pause (male hormone decline) symptoms
Decreased or non-existent libido or sex drive
Blood sugar dysregulation: hyper or hypo glycemia, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes
Increased sensitivity to light, sounds and smells
Increased blood pressure or in some cases extremely low blood pressure as in adrenal fatigue
Metabolic Syndrome: a combination of conditions including increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess abdominal and waist fat, elevated cholesterol or triglycerides and therefore increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Lab test results will show elevated cortisol (for a short time, then severely low cortisol after years of chronic stress). Will also demonstrate elevated glucose, triglycerides, LDL Cholesterol – the potentially harmful atherosclerotic lipid. And may also indicate reduced reproductive hormones like progesterone, estrogen, DHEA and testosterone.
As you can see, stress significantly affects the entire body! What can we do to help alleviate these stressful symptoms? So many excellent healing choices that we can make are listed below.
Oxygen is essential for survival. When we are stressed, we tend to engage in shallow breathing. Practicing mindfulness based slow deep breathes can not only saturate our brain and other vital organs with oxygen, it also shifts away from the adrenaline/cortisol driven sympathetic nervous system (“Fight or Flight” response) to the calming parasympathetic nervous system – which helps us feel relaxed and a sense of peace. Try this very simple, quick and effective exercise anytime, anywhere. Find a quiet place to retreat if possible. Practice this until it becomes a positive habit. This is really effective!