By Dr. Mercola
Anxiety over a project at work… a marital spat… financial trouble… health problems… the list of potential stressors is endless, but wherever your stress is coming from, it likely starts in your head.
An inkling of worry might soon grow into an avalanche of anxiety. It might keep you up at night, your mind racing with potential “what ifs” and worst-case scenarios. Worse still, if the problem is ongoing, your stressed-out state may become your new normal — extra stress hormones, inflammation, and all.
While beneficial if you’re actually in imminent danger, that heightened state of stress – the one that makes your survival more likely in the event of an attack, for instance – is damaging over time.
The thoughts in your head are only the beginning or, perhaps more aptly, are the wheels that set the harmful mechanism known as chronic stress into motion – and, once spinning, it’s very easy to spiral out of control. As reported in Science News:1
“Stress research gained traction with a master stroke of health science called the Whitehall Study, in which British researchers showed that stressed workers were suffering ill effects.
Scientists have since described how a stressed brain triggers rampant hormone release, which leads to imbalanced immunity and long-term physical wear and tear.
Those effects take a toll quite apart from the anxiety and other psychological challenges that stressed individuals deal with day to day.”
You know the saying “when it rains, it pours”? This is a good description of chronic stress in your body, because it makes virtually everything harder. The term psychological stress is, in fact, misleading, because no stress is solely psychological… it’s not all in your head.
Let’s say you lose your job or are struggling from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from abuse you suffered as a child. Excess stress hormones are released, including cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Your stress response becomes imbalanced; it’s not shutting off.
Your immune system suffers as a result, and epigenetic changes are rapidly occurring. The stress is triggering systemic low-grade inflammation, and suddenly your blood pressure is up, your asthma is flaring, and you keep getting colds.
That cut on your leg just doesn’t seem to want to heal, and your skin is a mess. You’re having trouble sleeping and, on an emotional level, you feel like you’re nearing burnout.
Stress is very much like a snowball rolling down a mountain, gaining momentum, gaining speed and growing until suddenly it crashes. That crash, unfortunately, is often at the expense of your health.
Police officers clearly face amplified stress on the job, and researchers found they were 21 times more likely to die of a heart attack during an altercation than during routine activities.2 This isn’t entirely surprising until you compare it to heart-attack risk during physical training, which increased only seven fold.
The difference in physical exertion between the two circumstances likely doesn’t account for the increased risk… it’s the level of stress being experienced that sends heart attack risk through the roof.
More heart attacks and other cardiovascular events also occur on Mondays than any other day of the week.3 This “Monday cardiac phenomenon” has been recognized for some time, and has long been believed to be related to work stress.
During moments of high stress, your body releases hormones such as norepinephrine, which the researchers believe can cause the dispersal of bacterial biofilms from the walls of your arteries.4 This dispersal can allow plaque deposits to suddenly break loose, thereby triggering a heart attack.
Stress contributes to heart disease in other ways as well. Besides norepinephrine, your body also releases other stress hormones that prepare your body to either fight or flee. One such stress hormone is cortisol.
When stress becomes chronic, your immune system becomes increasingly desensitized to cortisol, and since inflammation is partly regulated by this hormone, this decreased sensitivity heightens the inflammatory response and allows inflammation to get out of control.5 Chronic inflammation is a hallmark not only of heart disease but many chronic diseases.
People who grow up in poor socioeconomic conditions have higher levels of inflammatory markers, including interleukin-6 (IL-6) and C-reactive protein (CRP). They’re also twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes as adults, a risk researchers say is partly due to the elevated inflammation.6
People who suffered child abuse also tend to have higher levels of chronic inflammation, as do those who act as caregivers for loved ones. As reported inScience News:7
“Scientists are now digging deeper, sorting through changes in gene activity that underlie inflammation and receptor shutdown. For example, childhood stress might get embedded in immune cells called macrophages through epigenetic changes — alterations that affect the activity levels of genes without changing the underlying DNA.
Psychologist Gregory Miller of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., suggests that these changes can endow the macrophages with pro-inflammatory tendencies that later foster chronic diseases.”
Prolonged stress can also damage your brain cells and make you lose the capacity to remember things. The brain cells of stressed rats are dramatically smaller, especially in the area of their hippocampus, which is the seat of learning and memory.
Stress disrupts your neuroendocrine and immune systems and appears to trigger a degenerative process in your brain that can result in Alzheimer’s disease. Stress-induced weight gain is also real and typically involves an increase in belly fat, which is the most dangerous fat for your body to accumulate, and increases your cardiovascular risk.
Stress alters the way fat is deposited because of the specific hormones and other chemicals your body produces when you’re stressed. Stress clearly affects virtually your whole body, but according to neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky in the documentary Stress: Portrait of a Killer, the following are the most common health conditions that are caused by or worsened by stress:
Cardiovascular disease Hypertension Depression Anxiety Sexual dysfunction Infertility and irregular cycles Frequent colds Insomnia and fatigue Trouble concentrating Memory loss Appetite changes Digestive problems and dysbiosis
Digestive problems made Dr. Sapolsky’s list above, which makes sense because the stress response causes a number of detrimental events in your gut, including:
- Decreased nutrient absorption
- Decreased oxygenation to your gut
- As much as four times less blood flow to your digestive system, which leads to decreased metabolism
- Decreased enzymatic output in your gut – as much as 20,000-fold!
To put it simply, chronic stress (and other negative emotions like anger, anxiety and sadness) can trigger symptoms and full-blown disease in your gut. As Harvard researchers explain:8
“Psychology combines with physical factors to cause pain and other bowel symptoms. Psychosocial factors influence the actual physiology of the gut, as well as symptoms. In other words, stress (or depression or other psychological factors) can affect movement and contractions of the GI tract, cause inflammation, or make you more susceptible to infection. In addition, research suggests that some people with functional GI disorders perceive pain more acutely than other people do because their brains do not properly regulate pain signals from the GI tract. Stress can make the existing pain seem even worse.”
Interestingly, the connection works both ways, meaning that while stress can cause gut problems, gut problems can also wreak havoc on your emotions. The Harvard researchers continue:
“This connection goes both ways. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That’s because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected — so intimately that they should be viewed as one system.”
Stress is implicated in cancer, not so much as a cause of cancer but because it seems to fuel its growth (or interfere with processes that might otherwise slow it down). For instance, the stress hormones norepinephrine and epinephrine encourage the growth of blood vessels that help prostate tumors to grow. Meanwhile, in women with pelvic growths (who were awaiting tests to see if the growths were cancerous or benign), those with good social support (and presumably therefore less stress) had more immune attack cells directed at the masses, Science News reported.9
Stress has also been shown to increase the likelihood of cancer spreading, or metastasis, which is a major cause of cancer death, by 30-fold.10 Chronic stress also leads to disrupted cortisol signaling. In the case of excess cortisol exposure, some cell receptors become muted, including receptors on immune cells. This is one reason why people under stress are about twice as likely to develop a cold after exposure to a cold virus, compared to non-stressed people. 11,12
Dr. Sapolsky explains that you are more vulnerable to stress if the following factors are true:
- You feel like you have no control
- You’re not getting any predictive information (how bad the challenge is going to be, how long it will go on, etc.)
- You feel you have no way out
- You interpret things as getting worse
- You have no “shoulder to cry on” (e.g., lack of social affiliation or support)
People at the top of the social pyramid feel a greater sense of control because they are the ones who call the shots, as well as typically having more social connections and resources at their disposal. This results in less stress, which over the long run translates to lower rates of disease. Stress is also closely related to the experience of pleasure, related to the binding of dopamine to pleasure receptors in your brain. People of lower socioeconomic status appear to derive less pleasure from their lives. Perhaps this is why laughter therapy is so effective at relieving stress.13
On the brighter side, positive emotions like happiness, hope, and optimism also prompt changes in your body’s cells, even triggering the release of feel-good brain chemicals. While you can create happiness artificially (and temporarily) by taking drugs or drinking alcohol, for instance, the same endorphin and dopamine high can be achieved via healthy habits like exercise, laughter, hugging and kissing, sex, or bonding with your child. If you’re wondering just how powerful and effective this can be, a 10-second hug a day can lead to biochemical and physiological reactions in your body that can significantly improve your health. According to one study, this includes:14
Lower risk of heart disease Stress reduction Fight fatigue Boost your immune system Fight infections Ease depression
Drink Up – Infused Water
“Water is the driving force in nature.”
― Leonardo da Vinci
Fill up a couple of Mason Jars with water and add fruit/herb combos.
Place the lidded jars in the fridge overnight to chill & infuse.
Wake up to a refreshing drink, and sip on the other one throughout the day!
Infused Water Combos:
Lemon & Mint
Orange & Basil
Watermelon & Mint
Orange, Lemon & Lime
Apple & Cinnamon stick
Orange & Pineapple
Strawberry & Mint
Lemon & Blueberry
Lime & Mint
Cucumber, Lemon & Mint
Blackberry & Ginger
Lemon & Ginger
Strawberry & Lime
Pineapple & Mango
Try your own combos..
Self Care – Take a Long Relaxing Bath
Unwind . De-stress . Relax . Restore . Revive . Regenerate . Heal . Solitude
Relax muscles, calm your mind, detoxify, moisturize, stimulate circulation and clear your lymph system – all with a simple bath.
The psychological benefits from the time to unwind in warm water are numerous. Relaxing in the bath can take your mind off worries and give you a clearer head for when you need to address problems at a later date. It helps your body release built up stress and tension.
Keep your bath time without interruption to help give yourself a break from your hectic life. You could add essential oils, music and candles for ultimate relaxation
Be sure to relax your mind as well as your muscles.
Find a Beautiful Space in Nature that Uplifts You & Restores your Spirit
Yesterday I took my dog for a walk and chilled out in the middle of a park in the sun. I haven’t felt so peaceful in many years. I lay in the grass looking up a the clear sky while my little dog ran around exploring the new area. For once, I felt no pain in my body and no stress in my head..
Time To Stop Being Passive
Get your life back!
We all reach a point in our life when we need to make the choice to live. To really live.
We may have been through hell but it takes choices and action to get out of hell.
To get up and fight for your life, fight for your future.. to survive.
This is hard when you’re been in a long term abusive relationship or a dysfunctional family – because It’s hard to get up when all you want to do is lie down and you may not know how to survive on your own because you’ve always been controlled. You’re not a strategist and you don’t have the skills of focus, discipline, determination and commitment.
Survival may be something you have never had to do before – to protect and provide for yourself without support.
You may feel terrified. You may procrastinate knowing you have to take some action, but feel overwhelmed where to begin..
Due to the abuse or trauma, you may have PTSD, not be able to focus clearly and be suffering from dissociation, you may find it difficult to take action.
I’m going to suggest one task for you to start. One thing for you to do everyday consistently. At this stage you don’t have to do anything else – except maybe look for some healthy support or talk therapy.
The thing to do is to get back ‘into your body’and re-train your brain – this is very important especially if you have PTSD and feel somewhat ‘out of body’ and drifting through life. Time is ticking by and you’re not achieving much..
People who have been subject to abusive or controlling behavior are emotionally very strong, they have strong and big hearts, but they need to develop a strong mind to go with their big hearts. From being controlled their mental strength has atrophied – literally. Brain scans prove this.. abuse and neglect damage the brain.
Time to heal and balance that…
This is a very simple plan and it’s starting point to help get back into your body.. and re-train your brain..
You have to be consistent…
Monday – Go for a walk (DO NOT exceed 20 mins). Walk briskly or to the very best of your ability .. for no more than 20 mins – this is important! If you’re sick or very unfit – go slow and start with 5 mins – the important thing is to start and be consistent. If there is nothing else you can achieve all day – achieve this. This is it, the one thing – forget the dishes, the housework – you only have to eat, sleep, do some washing and do this. Organize what you need the night before – find your old walking shoes, old track pants and a t-shirt, forget about your looks and think about your survival. Don’t make it difficult, keep it simple – throw on your gear and walk out the front door. Get home and rest for the rest of the day if need be.
Tuesday – Do crunches (5 sets of 12) – DO NOT do more than that.. but do them to the best of your ability and do them correctly. Have a break between each set if need be and remember to protect your back as you do them.. Watch the video for a demo.
Get a piece of cardboard and write on it ‘ I am Strong’ in large letters – make a sign.. Place it in the room you do the crunches in. Each time you feel too weak remind yourself that you are strong – do 12, have a break, tell yourself that you are strong and that you can do this.. do 12 more… repeat.
Wednesday – Repeat walk
Thursday – Repeat crunches
Friday – Walk
Saturday – Crunches
Sunday – Rest Day
There is a very good reason to start this very simple routine which may not be understandable to you ..
1. People with PTSD or C-PTSD need to get into their body and slowly and gently re- wire their brain – pushing yourself for a hour at the gym daily will never work for people with PTSD – you’ll give up, not because you’re lazy or weak, just that it’s simply too hard and we will be setting ourselves up to feel like failures. Which we are not! This system is manageable.
No fancy gear required.
2. We need to activate our ‘core’ muscles – we can do this by doing the crunches. This is the key starting point to external strength. This relates to our ‘solar plexus’ chakra and issues regarding procrastination. Crunches activate your core and balance your solar plexus..
3. These small and easily achieved acts of discipline a day help you develop mental strength and focus. Remember baby steps.
4. Slowly you will achieve results and it will not be at all difficult, it will take time but it is easy!
5. You will begin to focus better.
6. You must be consistent, think of it as something you do daily like cleaning your teeth.
7. You are incorporating discipline, commitment and focus into your life – you need these attributes in order to survive and heal. You are working new muscles do to speak – mentally and physically.. and they will get stronger.
8. Only you live in your mind, you are in control of it. Tell the little voice inside your head that says ‘I’m too tired, it’s too hard’, I want to sleep’, there’s no point’, it’ll take forever’…. where to go and choose life, choose health, choose to survive.
This may seem small but it is a big starting point.
Next up – Diet for Healing..
Love and baby steps,
Everyone experiences stress; it’s almost unavoidable in the modern world. College exams, job interviews, entrance exams for graduate programs, a big deadline at work, and the list is practically endless.
However, there is a point when stress can start to become truly harmful. If you start experiencing any (or all!) of these signs of stress, it may be time to do something about it.
Fatigue and Problems Sleeping
If you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep (and you can’t blame it on too much caffeine), it’s time to do something about your stress levels.
Headaches and/or Muscle Pain and Tension
Chances are you know how your body reacts when you’re stressed. Pay attention to what your body is telling you! If you’re uncomfortable, it may be due to the amount of stress you’re under. I carry all my tension in my neck and shoulders, so when that area starts to get uncomfortable, I know I need to take a break.
Changes in Mood
You’re rude to a friend out of the blue, you can’t seem to sit still, or you’ve started crying at random intervals. It may be that stress is affecting your mood, and thus your behavior. That’s not to say that you can blame stress for all of your bad moods, but if you can’t seem to shake it you may want to ask yourself if stress is to blame.
Lack of Motivation or Focus
When we are stressed out we start feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin. When this happens we have an extremely difficult time getting anything done. For some stress can be a motivating factor, but if you’re losing focus on a project that you know is important or that you were previously excited about, stress may be the root of the problem.
Overeating or Under Eating
The food you eat is the fuel for everything you do. Both over and under eating can cause problems (the word hangry was created for a reason). So when you notice you’ve drifted away from your typical eating habits, stress may be an underlying cause.
If you realize that you’re experiencing one or more of these factors, try some physical activity or other stress management technique in the short term. Favorite stress-busters are ‘taking positive action,’ exercise, baths, long walks or yoga.
What is stressing you and what can you do about it?
Hate your job?
Your partner is not a good match?
Feeling hopeless or trapped?
Start making choices and taking baby steps to get you out of the stress.
Start taking some control of the situation no matter how small. ( a little and a little = a lot)
Positive action will make you feel better.
Taking control of your stress level may help you not only feel better now, but also improve your long term health.
Scientists have linked stress to a decrease in memory, a weakened immune system, and even weight gain.
N Lepore (Mind Body Green)