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 normal 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 can all be signifigant 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, make positive changes in order to reduce the number or intensity of stressors you experience. It can have a substantial impact on your physical and emotional health.
Tomorrow I’ll post the second part of this series, about what you can do to lessen your stress load. Read Part 2 here.
If you want to learn more about stress and health, you can read my reviews of these books: