STRESS AND YOUR HEALTH

In Part 4 of my series – Sacrificing Our Health – I am going to begin discussing stress. Before I go into much detail in regards to what stress does to our bodies and how it negatively impacts our health, I am going to discuss what stress is. As simplistic as this may sound, most people have no idea that many daily activities they are doing daily are creating stress overload. Let’s look at what we do and what creates stress and then talk about what stress does to our bodies in Part 5 of the series.

We were obviously made to handle a certain amount of stress. Our bodies are wonderfully designed to be very resilient. In the past if our ancestors needed a surge of energy to run from an approaching tiger, their adrenal glands gladly supplied them with this needed boost of energy that was necessary to preserve life.

However, once the threat of the approaching tiger had passed, our ancestors lived relatively peaceful lives. In spite of popular belief, our ancestors had much more time to relax than we do today. They also didn’t live with the stimuli of television, computers, cell phones, and other devises.

Nightfall brought them back to their families where time was spent unwinding. Since there was no light after sunset, bedtimes were earlier and rest wasn’t optional. In many ways life was much simpler.

Just this morning after I finished teaching a Yoga class, a client commented that back in her country people got up every morning when the roosters crowed and were in bed by 7 PM at night. While I agree, this may seem a bit early to rise and early to retire, it is certainly much healthier than what we do today.

In today ‘s world we are bombarded daily with stress. Often our day begins early in the morning and ends late into the night with no time to “stop” and recover. Many of us work long days or more than one job. Our jobs are demanding both mentally and often physically. We may skip meals, eating processed or poor quality foods, because we feel too rushed to eat or have no “time” to cook.

At night we have little positive interaction with family or friends. We may either spend time working right up to the time we go to bed, or we spend “relaxation” time watching TV and involved in other “stimulating” activities which interfere with the production of melatonin and interfere with quality sleep.

Besides the vigorous routine of everyday life we often try to maintain bad relationships, fill up with caffeine or alcohol, stay up too late, eat bad foods, worry about money, skip meals or eat too much, live in toxic environments, and spend little or no time meditating, thinking, reading, talking with friends and family and loving ourselves. Not only are we stressed from all the external factors we live in and are exposed to, but also our internal thoughts (self – talk) are negative, limiting, and stress producing.

Let’s look at some areas that can overtax the adrenals and produce too much stress:

WORK – If you are a work alcoholic by ANY name – (hard worker, family provider, dedicated employee, studious student) etc – it is time you look at your life and where it is leading. TOO much work of any kind leads to adrenal fatigue. Finding time to balance family, relationships, and “me” time is important. Take a moment and add up all the hours you work – not just at your job but also at your house – include ANY position that is work-related.

Look at the amount of time you spend “working” and ask yourself if you aren’t possibly working too much. Are your diet, sex-life, social life, family time, relationships, spiritual growth, emotional health, and other important realms of life suffering? Not only are your adrenals being taxed, but also your life is imbalanced and more than likely your relationships and health a re also negatively affected or will be in the future.

DIET- Non-nutritious food is very taxing on our adrenals. Sugar, alcohol, caffeine, processed and/or fast foods, and microwaved foods cause an increase in cortisol and place high demands on our adrenals. Not only are these non-nutritious, but they also cause our adrenal glands to pump additional cortisol. Caffeine is especially damaging to the adrenal glands. Food is not designed to tax our body – but rather provide energy. When we eat food that is full of chemicals, pesticides, artificial ingredients and nutrient deficient we cause stress to our bodies.

Sugar is especially hard on the adrenals. According to the new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data, sugar consumption was 158 POUNDS per person – 30% higher than in 1983 (1) – and that was over ten years ago! Sugar will need an entire article of it’s own to even begin to touch all the negative effects it has on your health – especially the adrenals.

Skipping meals and overeating cause the adrenals to overwork. When you miss a meal, the body often feels “threatened” – and jumps into starvation mode. This creates more cortisol. Low calorie and yo-yo dieting are often main causes of adrenal burn- out especially in females. Taking time to clean up your diet is essential to healing the adrenals and reducing stress.

SLEEP – Staying up too late and not getting adequate sleep is stress. The ideal time to sleep and allow the adrenals to repair is 10 PM to 6 AM. Furthermore, if you are suffering from severe adrenal fatigue, it is recommended to sleep in later in the morning (past 6 AM and even as late as 9 AM) and allow the adrenals additional rest. As previously stated, not only do we not get enough sleep but the quality of sleep we are getting is often poor. For more information on how Circadian Rhythms affect our health see my blog on Circadian Rhythms and Your Health.

RELATIONSHIPS – Bad relationships create a lot of additional stress in our lives. While all relationships have their “ups and downs”, and it is crucial to work hard to keep your relations hips vital and healthy. If you are in an abusive or irreparable “bad” relationship, you may need to consider leaving. While I am not advocating divorce or encouraging anyone to walk away from a relationship, it is necessary to examine your relationships and determine how to repair or replace them. If YOU are the problem, it is certainly necessary to get help for you and your partner.

Not only do we need to look at our relationships to our partners, but we also need to examine what kinds of relationships we have with friends. Are these vital and healthy? Do they provide positive energy and encouragement to your life? Do you associate with people who are upbeat, positive, and vibrant or do most of your “friends” drain your energy and have negative attitudes?

BEING SINGLE– Another stressful situation is to be “alone”.  Being a single female, I can assure you that being in the wrong relationship is worse than being without one. However, studies show that married people live longer than singles. (Note this doesn’t say people who have “live-in” partners but people who are actually married). Single men have mortality rates that are 250% higher than married men, while single women have 50% higher mortality rates than single women (2). Ironically enough these figures favor marriage for men – even more than for women. Apparently stress is better when “shared”.
EXERCISE – To make matters worse, on top of the stress we are already under, we decide to exercise and vigorously. Yes, you heard me right! Vigorous exercise can be very stressful to the body. There are clients that I ask to give up hard exercise and perform only Yoga or other parasympathetic exercise until they have time to reduce stress in other areas of their life and I feel they can comfortably “handle” this additional stress without doing further damage to the adrenal glands. While exercise is important, finding the right exercise to support the adrenals is far more important. Often we find that while exercising during very stressful times, we become injured. This is no coincidence! Therefore, during times of extreme stress, it may be wise to avoid heavy workouts – (more on that in future series).

ENVIRONMENTAL/EXTERNAL STRESS – We are exposed to stress daily from the air we breathe to the toxins in o ur cleaning products. Weather can create additional stress on our bodies as well. External forces that we can’t control from traffic – to how are boss treats us at work – can all be sources of external stress. Some external and environmental factors we have little control over, (such as the air we breathe) while others we can control- (the products we use in our homes). Much of how negatively this stress affects our lives is dependent on how we “handle” it – our response to the stress. (More on that later in the series).

FINANCES – Money is a huge source of stress for many. Most people never feel they have enough and therefore are c onstantly worrying about their finances. If you find yourself constantly thinking about money, you can bet that you are “worrying” about your financial situation. In this day and age of uncertainty, we often need to let go of the many aspects of life that we can’t control and trust that we will be okay. I am not telling you to be lazy or spend your money unwisely, but I to think most of us spend far too much time worrying about what we think we don’t have. Often the truth is that no matter how much we “have” we always think we need more, and the propensity to worry about finances can become a never-ending problem.

OUR THOUGHTS or INTERNAL STRESS – This is one of the biggest causes of stress in our lives. We think ne g atively about everything – from our finances – to our appearance – to our jobs – to our future. We don’t have faith to trust that there is a bigger source of power in this world that provides for us daily. We “think” we are in want – and we bring more want and negativity to our lives. Our thoughts can create continual stress all day long!

This is only a list of some of the stressors we face daily. I never mentioned the use of drugs (recreational OR prescription), vitamins (that may be wrong for YOUR body), loss of jobs, death, illness, and other tragedies – many of which we cannot control.

However, being educated in the first step in understanding how to reduce stress in our lives so don’t despair. In the next part of this series, I will address the affects of stress in our lives. I will look at what occurs when our adrenals can no longer keep up with the amount of cortisol necessary for us to get through the day. I will talk about the health risks and signs of adrenal fatigue or burnout.

Finally I will conclude in the final segment with ideas of how you can change your life and reduce stress. If you are already suffering from adrenal burnout – I will include many suggestions for adrenal repair and you can always contact me for assistance in this area.Please feel free to leave your comments below. Email me if you have any questions that are of a personal nature or if you need more information in regards to the work I do with adrenal function and repair.

Have a healthy – STRESS FREE day!

1 http://www.cspinet.org/new/sugar_limit.html

2 http://www.psychpage.com/family/library/brwaitgalligher.html