Aug 08 2014

Stress 101 – What it is, and how to deal with it

For animals, their ‘stress response’ is a short term response to an outside threat, such as a predator stalking it, a bush fire or a flood that needs to be escaped. It is linked to the “fight” or “flight” response – the animal either chooses to stay and fight, or…

For animals, their ‘stress response’ is a short term response to an outside threat, such as a predator stalking it, a bush fire or a flood that needs to be escaped. It is linked to the “fight” or “flight” response – the animal either chooses to stay and fight, or run away from the danger. The sensations put them in a state of alert, ready to deal with the situation.  Unfortunately for us, our body has the same reaction to looming deadlines, as a zebra does to being a lion’s lunch.

Here are the short term changes that are needed instantaneously in your body to get you ready to ready for physical activity:

  1. Increased heart rate
  2. Increase in breathing
  3. The liver releases glucose for energy

At the same time, your long term biological functions are stopped, because if there is the threat of death, these processes are no longer needed!

  1. Decrease in digestive activity (until the stressor has gone, then you’re likely to ‘pig-out’ as your hunger levels rise rapidly)
  2. The cessation of all long-term biological processes such as sexual reproductive functions
  3. Muscular development or fat burning stops

Unlike animals that suffer stress for short periods of time, we tend to stress over immediate threats but also long-term worries.  That could be our mortgage, children’s exam results, or a deadline at work.  We stay in an state of alert, and as one stressor adds into another, and another, we slowly fatigue our bodies to the point of complete exhaustion. You may have heard this referred to as chronic fatigue – where the glands that produce the hormones we need are simply completely worn out, and unable to dal with the constant alert. By this time, your body is so out of sync, you will have found your weight creeping up, blood pressure & blood sugar levels elevated. It’s likely you’ll have to take some time off work.

Warning signs that you might be heading towards burning out include cravings for sweet and salty foods, a lack up of get up and go (or a tiredness that doesn’t appear to be relieved by sleeping), frequent illnesses and infections and lost libido. Also, a lack of ability to concentrate or remember things in the short term is a sign that your body is overloaded with more than it can cope with.

So here are a few steps you can take today to better manage the stress in your life, and ensure you stay healthy.

Replace the white salt in your food with a colourful sea salt, one like the pink crystals of himalayan mountain crystal salt. It’s got the broadest spectrum of minerals our bodies need than any other salt, and works as a detoxifying agent. This is important when you are aiming to rebalance your hormone levels.

Eliminate coffee and refined sugar from your diet – propping your body up with caffeine and sugar is a very temporary fix, and one which will stretch your adrenal glands to the max. If you are already stressed and tired, these might give you a brief pick me up, but you will feel 100 times worse after – plus it’s a little bit like an addition – the more you have the more your body simply relies on it, just to keep going.

Put your smart phone away! Allocate some downtime before you go to sleep every evening to switch off your brain and allow you time to relax – don’t keep yourself glued to you phone until your head hits the pillow. Sleep plays a big part in your recovery process, and if you don’t get enough good quality sleep, you’ll never feel good.

Exercise but not excessively, dial down the intensity of your training but don’t stop.  For those of you who don’t exercise at all, you should start with some light activity.  The body reacts to stress as a physical threat, mobilising energy for utilisation.  Exercising will assist the burning of these molecules, without the need for more hormone production to reabsorb them.

Stress in the City is a very real problem, and one that is consistently overlooked as a real threat to our long term health and wellbeing. “Remember to take care of your body; after all it’s the only place you’ve got to live.”

For more on stress and other fitness advice, why  not follow me @becscronshaw

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Salman