Whilst most of us are aware that chronic stress isn’t good for our health, recent studies have shown the health impacts of daily stress endured by “in high demand” people is more far-reaching than you may think.
Who is in “high demand” and experiencing the effects of stress?
What does “in high demand” really mean? I am referring to those of us who, in our 24/7 society, are juggling an excessive level of responsibility with little time left over in the day to rest, relax, wind down and simply be still.
Maybe you are what I term a “Superwoman”; juggling career, running busy households, trying to fit in daily exercise, dutifully visiting parents and friends on weekends, cooking after work each day, nurturing your children, partners or fur babies whilst having minimal down-time for yourself.
Maybe you are a mum at home with young children who require your undivided attention day-in-day-out leaving no time for you and your needs? In my prior life, where I advised senior women on important career decisions, it was abundantly clear that one of the most difficult jobs for them was being a stay-at-home mother with many describing their “work job” as much easier and much more appreciated!
Maybe you are a father supporting your family in whatever way you can during challenging times, maybe you are in a constant state of worry about job stability, maybe you are building a new business or maybe you live on your own with no support to build your career and having to rely on yourself to make ends meet.
Whatever type of in “high demand” person you are, functioning in this way is stressful, as far as the biochemistry of your body is concerned.
When stress goes unnoticed
Many of you may say “but I don’t feel stressed” or “this is my normal and has been for many years”.
But what the body sees as stress may in fact surprise you. Simply being in a constant “state of go” is a signal to which your body automatically reacts.
The body senses this “state of go” as stress, just as if you were running from a swerving car, swimming from a shark or protecting your child from danger and it responds by producing chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol to “fight or flight” this perceived threat. From a biochemistry point of view, your body does not know the difference between the swerving car or your natural, every day “state of go”. As far as your body is concerned, it is one and the same.
Effects of stress: what it’s doing to us in the long-term
In short bursts, stress acts to sharpen your focus and give you the extra strength and endurance you need to face an immediate issue or danger head-on. But when that threat is gone this reaction shuts down and normality returns.
The problem is that in modern society, this cortisol and adrenaline production never turns off because your “state of go” never turns off. This leads to consistently elevated levels of these chemicals in your body and these chemicals do a lot of things. Here are just a few:
High cortisol tells your body to release sugar into your blood stream to give your muscles the energy they need to “run from the threat” but , as you are not running anywhere, this excess sugar sits in your blood. Because excess sugar in the blood is dangerous, your body quickly stores this sugar as fat. And it is mostly around the abdominal area! Not only that, but cortisol is a chemical that increases your appetite meaning you crave more carbs and sugar.
Reduced function of important body processes
Whilst cortisol gives the signal to your body to increase muscle strength and blood sugar levels to run from that swerving car, it actually needs to shut down or inhibit other functions to do this. When facing this threat, the body rightly determines that certain processes are less important. Unfortunately, this means reduced digestion, immune strength and reproductive functions. Constantly being in the “state of go” will give rise to digestive issues, increased colds and flu and problems with fertility.
Reduced thyroid function
Stress hormones reduce the level of thyroid hormones in your body that can lead to weight gain, fatigue, hormone-related issues and infertility to name a few.
Anxiety and depression
Cortisol is a very greedy chemical in your body and it uses up a lot of nutrients that are also required to make “feel good” hormones and neurotransmitters. When cortisol is being made by your body at such high levels there is simply not enough of these nutrients to go around and mood disorders can appear.
High blood pressure
To run from that swerving car, your body needs to be fast and strong. Again, cortisol and adrenaline come to the party and activate physiological changes to push blood to your muscles, heart and vital organs. So that blood can get to these places quickly, your blood vessels tighten and your blood pressure increases. Being in a constant “state of go” means that this is happening to you all of the time.
How can we reduce the effects of stress?
It is, therefore, incredibly important not to underestimate the powerful impact stress may be having on your mental and physical well-being. Daily rituals to switch off this “state of go” is important for your happiness and your future. Daily moderate and enjoyable exercise, sunshine, getting into a good sleep routine, breathing exercises, a warm bath and a nutritious diet are some ideas that you could consider.
This article is here to provide you with some basic guidance on the importance of managing stress in your daily life.
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This blog contains information from my experience as a naturopath, education via Bachelor of Health Science Degree and continued research. This blog is not intended to provide individual health recommendations.