Have you ever felt stressed? You might be thinking, “What a ridiculous question. Of course I’ve felt stressed!” Clearly stress is a very real thing and most people can relate to being stressed. But do you know what actually causes stress and the role of stress in illness?
Stress plays a major role in how our body functions. It can affect our mood, our immune system, our neurotransmitters, and have a host of effects on our mental, physical, and emotional health. Let’s explore the role of stress in illness and what you can do to reduce your stress and have better overall health.
The Role of Stress in Illness
When you’re experiencing stress, particularly chronic stress, it can predispose the body to illness and disease.
While acute stress can help us muster the physical resources to get us out of immediate danger, chronically elevated stress severely diminishes the ability of the body to suppress inflammation, rebuild, and heal.
Under such chronic, unrelenting stress the body is forced to down-regulate every other system that isn’t absolutely critical for imminent survival; so digestion slows or stops (bloating, gut issues, constipation), energy resources are diverted to fight inflammation (fatigue), blood vessels constrict (cardio & blood pressure issues, cognitive issues), and the immune system is suppressed (infections, cancer, autoimmune issues).
Therefore, chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation, which left untreated affects every organ and cell in the body and can lead to a myriad of health conditions. And this is how unchecked stress and runaway inflammation become a gateway to more serious illnesses.
Impact on the Gut
Throughout this process, the gut is often severely affected. Gut bacteria becomes compromised causing a disruption in the balance of the gut microbiome, which can lead to:
- Further diminishment of the immune system, which is mostly located in the gut, allowing new infections to take root and gain ground, leading to even more fatigue
- It affects the balance of neurotransmitter production which causes anxiety and depression
- It affects the body’s ability to properly digest food and can lead to leaky gut syndrome, food allergies, and gut dysbiosis.
- The body may begin attacking itself and erroneously reacting to healthy foods which can lead to autoimmune diseases.
Symptoms of a Stressful Life
Do you recognize any symptoms of a stressful life below that may be contributing to your illness, mood and overall well-being? Some symptoms of a stressful lifestyle are:
- Difficulty gaining or losing weight
- Difficulty shutting off your thoughts
- Excessive moodiness
- Food allergies
- Food sensitivities
- Gastrointestinal Disorders (constipation, diarrhea, intestinal pain)
- Menstrual problems
- High blood pressure (Hypertension)
Causes of Stress
There are many causes of stress that play a role in illness. Let’s take a look at some of the main causes of stress:
Here are some things that tend to cause us to have negative, stressful thoughts that engage the body’s stress hormone system:
- Watching, reading or listening to the news regularly
- Interacting with difficult or antisocial people in the workplace
- Overwhelming work demands and deadlines
- Traffic jams and poor drivers
- Associating with negative people
- Difficult relationships
- Financial pressures
- Negative thoughts and beliefs due to past abuse
- Difficulty balancing work and family life
- Too many demands on your time / overscheduling
- Negative self-talk – Examples:
- I’m so stupid
- I should have known better
- I’ll never be able to do that
- I’m stuck in this situation
- I’m helpless
There are several things in our environment that can put stress on the body’s internal systems. Some of these are:
- Chemicals that we breathe in
- Chemicals that we put on our skin from our hair and skin products
- Chemicals we ingest from plastics and aluminum foil
- Heavy metals in our water and environment
- Environmental allergies
- Electromagnetic frequencies from electronics, fluorescent lights, power lines, and appliances
- Smoking and exposure to cigarette smoke
Physical stress can be caused by many factors. Injury to the body such as broken bones, sprains, torn ligaments, a fall, a concussion, or misalignment of vertebrae can cause stress on the body and mind. Over-use of certain muscle groups in a job or through exercise is another form of physical stress. And let’s not forget about viruses, bacterial infections, fungal infections, chronic pain, autoimmune diseases, cancer, and the like that all are forms of physical stress. These factors can not only affect the body, but also a person’s mental and emotional health.
Another form of stress is nutritional stress. This can be caused by:
Steps You Can Take to Reduce Stress
There are many steps you can take to reduce your level of stress. Following is a list of the most beneficial ways to reduce stress.
Improving Your Diet
Getting the right balance of protein, good fats, and healthy carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables will go a long way in reducing your stress and improving your intestinal health. Remember that 75% or more of the immune function resides in the gut, including the production of neurotransmitters which affect depression and mood
Get More Sleep and Exercise Regularly
Our bodies repair themselves while we sleep and have a rest from the stresses of the day, so getting more sleep is vital to reducing your stress. Everyone is different but adults typically need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night for optimal health and brain function. In addition, exercise reduces stress and increases endorphins which make us feel good, so regular exercise is vital to stress reduction. Remember that even taking a walk and getting some fresh air and sunshine can do this, so strenuous exercise isn’t necessary.
Keep Calm & Carry On
Numerous studies show the benefits of various techniques you can employ to lower your stress, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, being more present, stretching, heat therapy such as taking saunas, cold therapy, massage therapy, bodywork and chiropractic treatments. These work to reduce the body’s stress levels and even the size and activation of the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that triggers the fight or flight response. Applying one or more of the above can have positive effects on the body’s overall health and well-being.
Volunteering / Contributing to Causes You Support
Spending time interacting with people who have a common, positive mission can counteract stress. While it seems counter-intuitive, it can be an effective anecdote. It provides time away from one’s own problems and allows us to work with others toward accomplishing a common good. Just ask anyone how rewarding it is to help others who are less fortunate. As society becomes more and more isolated, we lose our sense of being part of a “tribe”. Being part of a group gives one a feeling of community, support and well-being. Find a group that appeals to you and join it or start your own. Take part in your local church or synagogue, social groups, reform groups or volunteer groups. Such activities foster positive emotions which reduce stress.
Improve Your Relationships
Stressful relationships can cause a host of problems. To reduce stress find ways to handle any relationships that cause you stress better by addressing the people and situations in your life that are chronically causing you stress. This may mean getting professional help, speaking up for yourself, or simply spending more time on important relationships having fun and interacting positively.
Use Natural Products
Since our skin is our biggest organ and absorbs chemicals right into our bloodstream, we need to be careful what we are putting on ourselves. Look for natural and organic products that are safe for your body.
Become More Self-Aware
One way to reduce stress is to become more self-aware of yourself, physically, mentally and spiritually. Take notice what stresses you out and work to improve your knowledge and skills about that area of life, so you can reduce your stress levels. By reading and listening to self-help publications, getting more training for your job, getting more fit, practicing positive thinking, and changing certain routines in your life, you will be able to mitigate those things that cause you stress.
How We Address the Role of Stress at LifeWorks
Along with the things you can do to naturally reduce your stress, LifeWorks is here to help you beyond what you can do on your own and to see if there are any underlying health issues that are contributing to your body’s level of stress.
When you come for an evaluation we will look for any physical issues that could be creating physical stress within the body, such as heavy metal toxicity, digestive issues, infections such as Lyme Disease, mold exposure, hormonal imbalances, neurotransmitter deficiencies or imbalances, food allergies, and the like.
We do a thorough investigation into what may be causing your illness. Through dietary changes, nutritional supplements and addressing the unique underlying physical issues causing your body additional stress, we can help you recover your health and wellness.
At LifeWorks we’ll be sure to get to the root cause of your health issues.
If you are looking for natural treatments for any illness, we would love to work with you.