Is constant stress weighing you down? Do you feel like you’re hanging on by a thread as you juggle the many responsibilities of life? Do you find it difficult to slow down, breathe, and just relax?
Stress can be a good thing—it results in increased productivity and motivation. However, when increasing stress is unmanaged, situations can feel overwhelming and even out of control. It is unmanaged stress that affects your health and is the subject of this blog.
When too many things demand attention all at once, the physiological effect in the body is stress. This is the impact that external stressors have inside your body in terms of your biochemical and physiological responses.
How does stress affect the body?
Imagine you’re in a relaxed state, your body is in a mellow space. Physiologically, your breathing tends to be deeper, heart rate and pulse are slower, and the nervous system is in a quiet state.
Suddenly a fire alarm goes off!
Your body has an instant reaction, triggering a “fight or flight response.” Your heart rate and blood flow increases, adrenaline shoots up, hormones shift releasing stress chemicals such as cortisol, and your brain goes on hyper-alert. We may not be fighting for survival as our ancestors did, but our bodies still respond to the now often invisible stressors of life.
Over time, as Nancy Molitor, PhD, explains, the effects of unmanaged stress begin to break down the body:
“Emotional stress alerts the body to produce stress chemicals such as cortisol, which—if produced on an ongoing basis—begin to break down the immune, gastrointestinal, neurological, and musculoskeletal systems.”
(Nancy Molitor is a psychiatry professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine).
Cortisol – is a hormone responsible for regulating inflammation. As you continue to be in a highly stressed state, your immune system becomes increasingly desensitized to cortisol. This heightens the inflammatory response, leading to excess inflammation— a condition linked to most diseases from diabetes and cancer to heart disease.
Memory – can be affected by elevated cortisol levels, which cause a gradual loss of synapses in your prefrontal cortex.
Adrenal glands – become fatigued and overworked, exhausting the body to the point of intense fatigue, despite a full night’s sleep.
Stomach – acidity creates an environment that encourages the H. Pylori bacteria to thrive. The H. Pylori bacteria is responsible for causing stomach ulcers. (Acidity is not, as previously thought, directly responsible for stomach ulcers.)
How is stress related to acidity?
pH Balance – the body needs a specific balance of acid-alkaline levels, referred to as a “pH” balance; this is the amount of acids and non-acids that are found in your body’s fluids, i.e. blood, saliva, urine, and tissues. This ratio of acids to non-acids determines your own internal pH levels. The optimum pH balance for the body is slightly alkaline, however, this optimum balance is significantly disturbed by stress.
Stress has a serious impact on the body’s acidity, resulting in an increased production of acid. This hyper-acidic environment causes accelerated aging, depletion of the body’s vital mineralization, impaired enzyme activity, organ damage, and inflammation.
Inflammation is a major symptom of stress. People suffering from stress endure aches, pains, and stiffness as a result of their hyper-acid condition.
Gregory Miller, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia, suggests inflammation is a “biological superhighway” connecting emotional stress and heart disease in a never-ending loop. In acute scenarios, stress serves a purpose. It initiates inflammation to mobilize the body’s immune cells to eliminate infection and heal injury. But when stress is chronic, inflammation gets out of control and inflammatory molecules can “spill into the brain, where they may cause apathy, social withdrawal, fatigue, and changes in eating habits.”
Another effect of a hyper-acidic environment in the body is that it allows bad microorganisms to thrive, and, because the immune system response is suppressed, this makes you more susceptible to illness.
How do lifestyle, diet, and attitude affect us?
Lifestyle, diet, and attitude have a major impact on stress and, in turn, acidity. By drinking unfiltered tap water, eating acidic foods, and thinking negative thoughts, we are creating a highly acidic environment in the body.
When feeling stressed, the common tendency is to crave and eat all the wrong things. We often seek out so-called “comfort foods” which, inevitably, are salty, sweet, and fatty. These unhealthy foods, in turn, cause stomachaches, headaches, and diarrhea while also advancing the growth of bad microorganisms in the body such as virus, bacteria, and fungus. These thrive in an acidic environment and put out more toxins, causing additional stress in the body. It’s a vicious cycle!
In addition to their highly acidic lifestyle, people often introduce an intensive exercise regime in the hopes of countering stress. Though exercise in moderation can be a valuable tool for dealing with stress, when it is overdone it can create lactic acid buildup that further acidifies the body and makes you feel bad. Remember, exercise should make you feel better, not worse.
To change your life and reduce your stress, you need to break out of this toxic cycle.
What can be done to feel better?
Stress is only stress if it is continuous, so interrupt it with activities such as walking in nature, meditating, praying, visualization, reading, and resting—whatever it takes to get the tension out of your body. The number one solution recommended by health practitioners is to slow down and reduce lifestyle demands that trigger unmanageable stress.
Harvard psychologist Laura Kubzansky explains, “People should view stress like pain, as a signal that something’s wrong. So often people think, ‘I can manage.’ Or, ‘I’ll get past this.’ Get help. This is serious and a real problem. It’s just as worthy of attention as a broken leg.”
Quietening down your external environment will enable you to quieten down your internal environment as well.
Winston Churchill during World War II is a great example of someone managing an extremely stressful situation. He took twenty-minute naps, at various times during the day. These would completely refresh him and allow him to continue working. It’s impossible to underestimate the importance of restorative time, which can have a huge impact on mood and well-being.
Stress is not about what happens, it is how you respond to a stressful situation that matters. Do things to calm yourself and your body down. The most important thing you can do to manage your stress is to train yourself in progressive health endorsing habits.
1) Practice good relaxation habits like daily baths, meditation, and deep breathing. When people are very stressed, they often breathe shallowly or even stop breathing altogether. It’s crucial to re-train yourself to breathe deeply, especially when you’re stressed. In moments of stress, work on cultivating a deep exhale, which will, in turn, encourage a deep inhale. Make a conscious choice to train your breathing. This will help to restore the oxygen balance in your blood and brain.
2) Focus on detoxifying and removing toxicity from the body. Toxicity stresses the whole internal system of the body sending the immune system on alert. It also triggers autoimmune disease, causing the body to start attacking itself.
3) Decrease your exposure to sources of toxins and acidity such as unfiltered tap water, pesticides, personal care and cleaning products and, most of all, unhealthy food. Try eating whole, natural, organic and fresh foods. Focus on a diet that is high in vegetables, and proteins while minimizing gluten, carbohydrates, and grains. Be mindful of what you put in your body and look for quality over convenience by avoiding packaged foods.
4) Get a hold of your mind to decrease stress and help yourself feel better. Negative, pessimistic thoughts create acidity as well as isolation and separation. To turn that around, be more optimistic about who you are and seek out the support you need.
In addition to being kind to others, remember to be kinder to yourself. This means eating good foods, avoiding sources of toxicity, and minimizing external sources of stress by surrounding yourself with people who make you feel good.
Figure out what makes you feel good and what makes you feel bad. Do more of what makes you feel good and less of what makes you feel bad. Your mental state is driving force in your well-being, so do what makes you feel peaceful. To release stress, embrace positive thoughts and let go of resistance.
If peace feels like an elusive state, go for a walk in nature and think happy thoughts!
Curious about the harmful effects of too much exercise? Check out our post “Lactic Acidosis – what you can do about it.”