by Elizabeth Walling
"What is stress? Physiologically, stress could be considered any event that triggers a marked response by the adrenal glands. In basic terms, this response is the release of cortisol. It's the body's natural reaction to any stressor. For occasional stressors, cortisol can provide a burst of benefits like increased energy, heightened reflexes and a higher threshold for pain. However, when stress is chronic, as it often is in modern society, cortisol levels can remain unnaturally high and lead to damaging effects, which include:
• Poor thyroid function
• Loss of lean body tissue like muscle and bone
• Higher blood pressure
• Susceptibility to illness, infection and disease
• Weight gain, particularly in the abdominal region
Eventually, if the stress is intense or chronic, the adrenal glands struggle to keep up with the many stressors your body encounters. Adrenal fatigue or burnout can result. Lack of energy, poor moods and a decreased ability to handle life's daily stresses are common signs of weak adrenal glands. The health problems caused by adrenal weakness are far reaching and can be serious because without strong adrenal health the body isn't capable of dealing with everyday problems like illness, toxins or emotional stress. Understanding what constitutes stress is one of the most important keys in dealing with it. Otherwise, we could very well be letting untold sources of stress slip through our fingers without notice. Here are some examples of common stressors:
• Emotional and psychological stress. This includes an unhappy work situation, marital friction, negative thought patterns, or death of a loved one.
• Lack of sleep, relaxation and downtime. This is all too common in our society, where many people sacrifice sleep and downtime in order to get more done.
• Allergies. Allergens in food or in your environment can cause stress, and stress can in turn trigger allergic reactions. This results in a vicious cycle which is sure to wear on your adrenals.
• Poor eating habits and diet. A healthy, balanced diet is the foundation of overall health and especially adrenal health. Skipping meals, dieting, or cutting out macronutrients are all stressors.
• Excessive exercise. Staying active is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but the mantra of "exercise more" is repeated so often people tend to think more is better. This is not necessarily true. Over-exercising is just as bad as not exercising at all, if not worse.
• Physical stressors. Whether it's a common cold or a sports injury, illness and physical trauma are stressors. Recurring infections, chronic pain or repeat injuries are especially stressful.
• Toxin exposure. This includes substances like refined sugar, chemical food additives (such as MSG), caffeine, nicotine, airborne pollution, chemicals found in household cleaners, toxins in our water supply, and the host of other chemicals and toxins we encounter every day.
The above list is meant to be used as a resource for identifying the top sources of stress in your life. It may not be possible to avoid every single one of these stressors - in fact, you are sure to encounter many of them throughout your life. But whenever possible, making positive changes in order to reduce the number or intensity of stressors you experience can have a substantial impact on your physical and emotional health.
Seven Keys to Reducing Stress: Once you've identified the top sources of stress in your life, it's important to take action and start moving things in a positive direction. Most people are amazed at the improvement they see in their health after making just a few small but very significant changes. Here are seven simple keys for reducing the stress in your life:
• Reduce Emotional and Psychological Stress: The impact of emotional stress cannot be underestimated, but this type of stress is often overlooked because it is difficult to make changes in this area. A difficult living situation, an unhappy marriage or a stressful job could be a source of major stress that is wearing down your health. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to move, get a divorce or quit your job, but it's important to look for ways to improve your situation in any case. If you're dealing with other stressors like depression, anxiety, or the loss of a loved one, you may want to seek counseling or join a support group that can offer you help. Although it appears small on the surface, negative thought patterns have a way of chipping away at our quality of life by compounding our stress. Establishing healthy patterns of enjoying the moment, reframing, and learning to forgive can have a very positive effect on your health.
• Prioritize Quality Sleep and Regular Downtime: The impact sleep can have on your life is well documented. Getting at least seven hours every night will balance your cortisol levels, improve your energy and brighten your mood. And just as important as sleep is downtime. It may take some rearranging if your schedule is packed with activities, but it's vital for your health to take time each day to relax and unwind. Taking a day off now and then and freeing yourself from a mile-long to-do list is very restorative as well. And by all means, if you can take a vacation and get away from it all, do it!
• Improve Food Quality and Eating Habits: It can't be emphasized enough: food is the foundation of your health. A balanced diet of natural foods is a must. All macronutrient groups (fats, proteins and carbohydrates) should be included in balanced ratios. Avoid skipping meals or under-eating. Your body needs quality food for nourishment.
• Avoid Allergens: If you have allergies, these can trigger a stress response in the body. Do your best to avoid allergens, which includes identifying food allergies so you can make better food choices. On the up side, if you deal properly with other stressors in your life, this may decrease the severity of your allergic reactions (which are, in part, a stress response of their own).
• Exercise: Make It Smart and Sensible: Exercise is very healthy, but it's important not to overdo it if you're otherwise stressed. Emphasize activities like strength training, yoga, walking and swimming. Avoid overtraining or doing too much cardio, which can exhaust the adrenals.
• Reduce Physical Stressors: If you get sick, injured or have to deal with chronic pain, try to get the rest and care you need so you can reduce the stress these cause on your body. Allow your body time to heal or, in the case of chronic pain, look for ways to treat the pain or the underlying cause that prevents you from living a normal, happy life.
• Avoid Toxin Exposure: Most of us can't completely eliminate toxins from our lives, but we can take measures to greatly reduce the amount of toxins our bodies must deal with every day. Filter your water, use natural beauty and cleaning products, eat organic foods, avoid chemical food additives and take the time to enjoy fresh air as much as you can."
For More Information:1. Schwarzbein, Diana. (2002) The Schwarzbein Principle II: The "Transition" - A Regeneration Program to Prevent and Reverse Accelerated Aging. Published by HCI.
2. Wilson, James L. (2002) Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome. Published by Smart Publications.
3. Cortisol and Stress: How to Stay Healthy, http://stress.about.com/od/stresshealth/a/cortisol.htm