Why Stress Is So Bad For Us!
Article by Dr Leesa Payne
What’s all the stress about stress?
Everywhere you look lately, there are articles about stress and how to avoid it. So why is everyone so stressed about stress? Simple - too much stress can have a negative impact on our health and our life.
When we think of ‘stress’ we often only think about emotional stress – work, family, money – but it is important to remember that physical stress and biochemical stress also have an effect on our body.
When we are stressed, our body releases cortisol (the ‘stress’ hormone), which gets our body ready for ‘fight or flight’ – our natural reaction to a dangerous or stressful situation. This release of cortisol is an important part of our body’s response system, and a perfectly natural and normal part of life. The problem arises when cortisol is present in levels which are too high for too long, such as when we are placed under stress for extended periods of time.
Symptoms of excessive stress are different for every person, but can include problems sleeping, anxiety, anger or increased appetite (so called ‘comfort eating’). People who suffer from excessive stress may find they are worrying about things out of their control, or find that they lose their temper about little things that would not normally bother them.
As well as affecting your emotional wellbeing, overwhelming stress has negative effects on your physical health. Stress has been found to worsen the effects of other medical conditions, such as asthma, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and fibromyalgia.
Long-term stress also suppresses the immune system, the digestive system and the reproductive system - meaning people who are chronically stressed may get sick more often, suffer more from digestive complaints or struggle with fertility.
Recent studies have found that how we think about stress can have as much of an impact as the stressful event itself – so how we react to stress in our lives may be the key to minimising its negative effects.
So what are 3 things you can do to change how you react to stress?
- Exercise. Exercise helps to prevent the negative effects of chronic stress, increases levels of neurotransmitters in your brain and increases the rate of cellular repair. In other words, exercise helps both your brain AND your body deal with stress. Start small if you need to, even just 15 minutes of walking a day is a start!!
- Cut back on caffeine. Too much caffeine when your body is already under excess stress will only compound the problem – affecting your sleep patterns and driving your adrenal glands to produce even more cortisol. Try swapping a coffee or two for water or herbal tea during the day, and if you have trouble sleeping, avoid caffeinated drinks after 2pm.
- Ask for help. If you are overwhelmed by stress and don’t know where to start, talk to your family, your friends, or your health professional about making a plan to get on top of your stress.
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