We all get stressed from time to time and it's difficult to avoid it all together, as it is our bodies' natural response to what we are going through.
Stress = Nature's Fight or Flight Response
When we start to feel stressed and anxious our bodies release the hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, into our bloodstream. This is also described as nature's fight or flight response to difficult situations. These hormones cause the heartbeat to quicken, releasing extra energy into the body, which prepares our muscles for action. Key to our human existence, this is our survival mode, preparing us to react quickly in an emergency.
Without Relief From Stress Our Health is at Risk
However for many of us, our lifestyle induces excess stress hormones daily or for long periods without relief in between. And when the body's reaction to stress is continuous, it is this longevity which can begin to put our health and fitness at risk.
Stress Symptoms to Look Out For
Common stress symptoms to look out for include feeling zapped of energy, forgetful and agitated as well as headaches, insomnia, hair loss, acne, and loss of libido.
Chronic Stress Depletes The Body of Energy
Ultimately when chronically stressed, the body's energy is used up, as it is focused on providing the heart and muscles with energy to function at a quick pace. So much so, that energy cannot be used as it should be for important maintenance tasks such as cell renewal or food digestion, as well taking away from the immune system, making us vulnerable to infections. High levels of adrenaline heighten your blood pressure, which can eventually result in hypertension, leaving you open to a possible stroke.
Being Stressed Makes if Difficult to Drop Body Fat
In this state it is difficult to prioritise exercise or healthy eating. Indeed being stressed can make it very difficult to drop body fat, as your sugar cravings go through the roof. This is because your body feels the energy level drop and needs to refuel on quick fixes that can be easily absorbed into the bloodstream. However sharp spikes in sugar are hard for the pancreas to deal with, and it is unable to produce as much insulin as needed to turn the sugar into energy storage in the muscles. This results in excess sugar levels in the blood which can lead to obesity as well as other illnesses such as type 2 diabetes.
Chronic Stress Can Lead to Mental Health Problems or Depression
On top of this, there has also been evidence that being in a chronic stressed state for a long period of time with excess levels of cortisol can actually disrupt synaptic connection between neurons in your brain, and cause change in mood and anxiety disorders which in turn could lead to developing further mental health problems or depression.
How to Avoid The Side Effects of Stress
Evidently our focus needs to be on getting our minds and bodies out of this chronic stress phase. While finding ourselves in stressful situations isn't always avoidable we need to ensure we give our bodies a time out, to repair, rest and recover normal bodily function - and take a step away from the ticking time bomb. In a cycle of positivity, the steps we can take to reduce our stress levels can actually in turn come with numerous health benefits so can produce a lifestyle change that can affect your overall health and wellbeing in the long run.
Focus on Strength Training a Couple of Times a Week and Eat Normally
It is important to try regular physical activity, and making sure we are feeding our bodies with a well rounded healthy nutrition.
During times of high stress, my advice would be to focus on strength training a couple of times per week to stay physically strong but do not put your body through calorific restriction of any kind until the stressful period has passed.
Turn Off All Digital Devices Well Before Bedtime
Get your routine set and working for you, try and turn off your digital devices that little bit earlier to ensure you get plenty of sleep, save your energy and give your body a change for rest and renewal.
Find Relaxation Techniques That Work For You
Find relaxation techniques that work for you, whether that be getting a massage, reading a book, or if that is simply making an effort to socialise or keep up with hobbies more often.
Meditation is a fantastic way to help to reduce inflammation, cortisol and balance mood, helping to restore overall health and well-being. In fact according to the Harvard researcher Sara Lazar, eight weeks of active mindful meditation can improve the density of your grey matter, improving your memory and learning and importantly undoing some of the damaged caused from your chronic stressed state. To give it a go:
- Get yourself in a calm and quiet environment where you will not be disturbed.
- Close your eyes and direct your attention to the inflow and outflow of breath from your nose. Naturally the mind will wander. Gently bring it back to the breath without force.
- Observe your awareness of your body, breath, the room you're in and the sounds around you. The experience of pure awareness is much-prized in the art of meditation and the more you can cultivate it the more peace you will feel inside.
- Don’t finish your session by jumping up and rushing off to something else. Allow the calm and tranquillity to flow naturally into the rest of your day.