“Stress is two forces moving in opposite directions. Sit still.”
Last weekend, we went to the Paleo f(x) Conference in Austin, Texas. It was a wonderful learning experience and a great networking opportunity. We will share more highlights in upcoming posts, but one of my favorite speakers from the weekend was Andrew Bernstein. He is the author of The Myth of Stress and founder of The Resilience Academy, an organization that helps people change the way they approach personal and professional “challenges” (or what some folks might call stress).
Bernstein believes that our modern view of stress is inaccurate and his research proves we can overcome perceived “environmental stressors” by changing our perspective and working to see things as they are. Towards the end of his presentation, he said, “Whenever you’re experiencing stress, you’re delusional.” Because according to him, stress is a state in which you are not seeing the world clearly. After reflecting on the session, his argument made a lot of sense… I decided to buy his book and get to work on my delusional worldview!
On the heels of Paleo f(x) and Bernstein’s talk, I am excited to share today’s guest post from Dr. Tom Sult. His recommendation to get out of the stress pool is an important one – for our physical, emotional, and social wellbeing. He reminds us to pause and consider the impact of stress. We know that any number of illnesses and symptoms can be caused by (or at least exacerbated) by stress, so let’s work to eliminate this inflammatory toxin from our lives… perhaps using some strategies from The Myth of Stress.
Dr. Tom Sult is board-certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He practices functional medicine and strives to find the fundamental cause of health issues. Dr. Sult is also an inspirational speaker and the author of Just Be Well: A Book For Seekers of Vibrant Health. For more information about Tom and the Just Be Well Movement, click here.
And now, I’ll let Dr. Sult take over…
Busy? Stressed? You’re not alone. Many of my patients tell me they feel the constant weight of overextending themselves with too many responsibilities, activities, and expectations. They get caught in the belief that the stress is temporary and life will return to normal once the work project is finished…once the wedding is over…once everyone from work gets back from vacation…once the holidays have passed.
But the truth is, many of us live in a constant state of stress, waiting for the next big event to end so we can finally relax. Guess what? That doesn’t happen. Many of us don’t slow down and relax. Instead, the next big thing comes along, and we’re right back in the stress pool. We typically think of stress as an emotional response, but at its foundation, it’s a physical one, intended to help us out in short-term, emergency situations. Constantly living in stress is not just bad for our moods, but it can also create long-term damage to our bodies.
We’ve all heard of fight or flight—the body’s natural response to danger. This infographic details just how stress can affect all parts of the body. It starts in the brain—specifically, in the amygdala—which senses danger and shuts down unnecessary functions (such as digestion) to prepare for survival. As the danger warning is sent through different areas of the brain, the brain analyzes the threat, focuses on it, and—if necessary—sends out the orders to release adrenaline and mobilize sugars in the body for energy. The heart pumps faster, fueling the body for movement.
The body’s response to stress is incredibly efficient—but only when coping with a short-term threat. Unfortunately, our bodies can’t distinguish between the immediate stress of stumbling upon a grizzly bear in the forest and dealing with a grizzly boss every day at work. The response is similar, and when that response is sustained over time, it can lead to health issues.
Constant stress can cause:
- The amygdala—the danger sensor—to become hypersensitive, with even small events feeling like a threat, leading to irritability.
- Excessive amounts of cortisol in the brain—one of the chemicals in the fight or flight response—to kill nerve cells in the brain, causing memory problems.
- The body to direct blood away from the skin to muscles in preparation for activity, which, long-term, can cause skin to age faster.
- Constant muscle pain or tension, as the body primes itself to fight.
- High blood pressure and thickened heart muscles, which can increase the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
- Difficulty sleeping since it’s hard for your body to turn off anxiety.
- A suppressed immune system since your body’s focus is on present danger. This can lead to increased inflammation as well.
Rather than accept these long-term health ramifications as the norm, we need to address it like any other health risk. First, take care of your body. Use deep breathing, meditation, exercise, and yoga to release extra tension. Eat a nutritious diet and get sufficient rest to aid your body in recovery. Consider the causes of constant stress and determine if they can be altered. Can you delegate tasks to someone else? Can you switch to a new job? Go to counseling with your spouse? Create a gratitude journal that helps you focus on what’s important and forget about the little things?
We may not be able to change the amount of stress present in the world around us, but with some effort and training, we can change our perspectives, actions, and reactions to it.
To see this article as it appears on the Just Be Well movement website, click here.
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