The stress response is one induced by our bodies to enable us to deal quickly with potentially threatening situations – often termed the “fight or flight” response. When these hormones are continuously produced, without the stimulus i.e., the threatening situation, it can be detrimental to our bodies.
What does it affect?
Blood pressure and blood sugar: stress hormones increase your glucose levels to enable us to “fight or flight”, over a long period this can put us at risk of developing diabetes. In addition, the stress hormone cortisol narrows arteries whilst epinephrine (adrenaline) increases your heart rate causing our heart to pump stronger and faster to better prepare us. This, naturally, will increase our blood pressure. Spikes in blood pressure can increase our risk of heart attack.
Breathing: increased breathing to elevate oxygen levels during the stress response, makes our breathing shallower and makes more use of the accessory breathing muscles in the upper chest and neck. Counterproductively, this can actually leave us feeling short of breath. In normal situations, our diaphragms are responsible for creating the vacuum that pulls air into our lungs and relaxing to help us exhale air. When our accessory breathing muscles are used for longer than designed – they will quickly fatigue which can cause discomfort and tight muscles around the neck and chest.
Muscles: our muscles tighten to protect us during stress and over a long period this can cause decreased circulation and increased lactic acid resulting in muscle ache, postural changes and referred pain – like tension headaches.
Digestion: stress hormones increase oesophageal spasm and production of stomach acid which can cause nausea, diarrhoea or constipation. Long term stress can slow down digestive processes which limits food absorption. A direct correlation between high cortisol (stress hormone) and higher calorie intake in women suggests that long-term stress may also cause weight gain.
Immunity: inflammation in the body is suppressed when cortisol levels are high, over a long period this can result in immune system suppression. This makes us more at risk of catching contagious illnesses and developing diseases and allergies.
How can we manage stress?
- Good quality sleep – decent sleep is essential to optimal health (as you may have read in one of our previous blogs). It equips us to better deal with stress too.
- Exercise – getting regular exercise (30 mins moderate exercise per day is a good goal) decreases stress hormone levels and increases production of endorphins (feel-good chemicals). Exercising more regularly is also likely to improve your sleep, digestion and blood pressure – two birds with one stone!
- Stress management techniques – meditation and yoga are popular choices. Yoga works on mind-body connection, mindfulness and breathing techniques with movement. Meditation is a practice to try to achieve tranquillity and peace of the mind and so is an excellent stress-management technique. Both of these practices have been shown to reduce stress levels.
- Eat a balanced diet – eating well is a good way to reduce the physiological impacts of long-term stress. Eating regular meals that prioritise whole foods and protein, whilst minimising highly refined food intake and drinking plenty of water, is key to managing blood sugar levels.
- Do things you enjoy – this goes without saying, but we can often forget to make time to do the things that make us happy when our schedules get hectic! Ensure you’re making time for yourself, whether that’s spending time with family and friends or doing a hobby.
If you are struggling with Stress or Anxiety you can contact us on 01454 838366 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and book in to see our clinical hypnotherapist and Behavioural Change Therapist Penny. We also have also have Osteopath, Alexandra Orchard and Physiotherapist, Matt Kinal who specialise in stress and anxiety related pain.