Stress the Destroyer
Stress can be a healthy thing; our stress response is there to help us deal with challenging or dangerous situations. If a tiger jumps out at you from behind a tree, your heart suddenly beats faster, your breathing gets faster, various muscles will tighten, your blood sugar levels rise, and non-emergency systems in your body are suppressed (such as your digestive system). Your body is now in ‘Fight or Flight’ mode, which is great for emergencies.
We usually don’t encounter too many tigers in our lives, instead in our society we often have lots of little stressful situations throughout our day. Rushing to get ready in the morning, fighting the traffic, work pressure, family hassles, money worries, etc. Most of these pressures are based on a fear of not enough, and lack of time is one of the big ones.
In this fast paced age, we hear that every minute counts. Day after day, week after week, all this pressure to achieve, meet goals, finish daily tasks, begins to build up inside of us until one day we are locked in the throes of time pressure. A chief contributor to time pressure is emotional identity. This happens when you invest a great deal of mental and emotional energy in a situation. All that energy can create tunnel vision, leaving you unable to see or appreciate other important things in your life. When someone or something interferes with that focus, the result frequently is irritation, anxiousness and frustration, especially when deadlines must be met. You push people away, neglect other areas of your life, but still proceed until eventually you lapse into emotional chaos. In the end, time pressure can seriously damage not only your relationships and quality of life, but even the situation in which you buried yourself to the exclusion of all else. Time pressure takes a toll on our nervous, immune and hormonal systems, and left unattended will likely produce cycles of anxiety, fatigue and temporary despair. As this process continues it makes us more susceptible to health problems.
Time Pressure Symptoms
Always rushed, too much to do, not enough time; mentally scattered, not feeling in control, tunnel vision, irritation at anyone or anything that breaks your focus, internal pressure, a gnawing feeling in your solar plexus, impatience, lack of compassion for self and others, feeling a constant slow burn inside, low grade stress and strain, feeling disconnected from life, decreased enjoyment of projects, relationships or life in general.
How Stress Affects Your Health
Stress is so common and has such a broad effect on the body that it is often a factor with almost any health problem. However, here are the most common ways it can affect you.
- Your Physical Body
We have already mentioned the physical changes in your body that stress causes, so let’s look at how these can affect your health.
- Your heart beats faster and harder, increasing the risk of high blood pressure, heart problems and strokes
- Various muscles tighten, often causing back, neck or shoulder problems
- Blood sugar levels are raised, increasing the risk of diabetes
- Non-emergency systems in your body are suppressed, so your digestion, immune system, and reproductive system (including your hormones and fertility) are disrupted. (Because your stomach is a muscular organ, it is particularly affected; in Japan, the stomach is sometimes referred to as ‘the reflection of stress’.)
- Your Energy Levels
Adrenaline and the other hormones we produce when we are stressed are stimulants. So too much stress over a long time will leave your body drained and depleted, causing you to constantly feel tired or burnt out, and can even lead to adrenal exhaustion or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
- Your Mental and Emotional State
Short-term stress can be a good thing- it can help stimulate your body and mind so that you can meet a deadline, perform better at sport, or cram for an exam. However, prolonged stress often causes the body to get stuck in the ‘Fight or Flight’ emergency mode all the time. When this happens, the constant mental or emotional stress accumulates in the body, causing the person to feel tense most of the time. Because of this accumulated stress in their body, any stress has a bigger effect on them than usual, and they may react more strongly to situations, so their internal stress builds up even more. Because of this, they may feel they don’t have much control of their life, which can create additional stress for them. Over time, this accumulated stress may manifest as anxiety, depression, poor sleep, irritability, cloudy thinking, relationship difficulties, panic attacks, etc.
When your body is stressed, it puts everything that isn’t directly related to survival on the back burner (like reproduction). Plus, stress and fertility involve many of the same glands and pathways – when stress hormones are being released in the brain, they wreak all kinds of havoc with your reproductive hormones.
Your pituitary gland is the link between your hypothalamus (brain) and your endocrine system (hormones). It communicates with your ovaries through your bloodstream; first, it releases hormones that tell your eggs to mature, and then it releases hormones that cause ovulation. When you’re stressed, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland are engaged in another chain reaction; the hypothalamus releases a hormone called CRH, which causes the pituitary to produce another hormone (ACTH), which in turn triggers the adrenal glands. This stress circuit temporarily shuts down your other hormonal systems, including reproduction, so your body can divert all of its energy into dealing with the perceived threat.
Or, in simpler terms: if your brain is busy with stress, it may not send the right messages to your ovaries, which means you won’t ovulate. If there’s no egg, the sperm have nothing to fertilise naturally, and you won’t fall pregnant. Even if you are still ovulating, some studies suggest that stress can reduce blood flow to the uterus and cause issues with implantation.
The Stress Solution
We often hear people say that they realise how stress is affecting them, but they can’t do anything about it. They can’t change the way their kids are behaving, they can’t quit their job, the bills keep coming in, etc. They also don’t have time to meditate, exercise or take time out every day. The answer is to clear out the accumulated stress from their body, which allows them to feel calm, relaxed, in control, and not get stressed easily. Usually this involves calming and relaxing the nervous system, and switching it from ‘Fight or Flight’ to the healthier ‘Rest, Repair and Reproduce’ mode. Often we will need to settle the person’s adrenaline levels down as well, particularly if they are feeling tired all the time. Acupuncture and naturopathy are both excellent for correcting the nervous system and the adrenaline levels. (A combination of the two is often ideal.)
If you suspect that stress may be an issue for you, please book in for a free Comprehensive Health Assessment so that we can check and let you know the extent of accumulated stress in your body, as well as the best way to treat it.