Stress, and your body’s response to it, is inevitable. When it happens in small, infrequent amounts, it can even be a helpful and necessary function of your brain and body. You are hardwired to respond to dangerous situations – like seeing a bear – in a way that prepares you physically and mentally for a fight or for flight.
The stress response in situations that we perceive as dangerous involves a complicated cascade of hormones. A message goes from your brain to your adrenal glands that tells them to produce adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. These in turn work throughout your body to increase your heart rate, jack up your blood pressure and blood sugar, and constrict certain blood vessels to increase blood flow to your muscles and brain. In this state, you are ready to take on or run from anything.
The problem comes when you begin to experience this stress response on a regular basis. Constantly looming deadlines, poor working relationships, excessive demands all at once, and even fights and arguments with a partner can all be perceived by your brain as fight or flight situations. It is this type of ongoing stress that more and more researchers are linking with symptoms and diseases, both acute and chronic.
When you are in a state of chronic stress, all parts of your body are affected. Digestive difficulties are common because of the long-term effect on stomach acid and since blood is regularly directed away from the digestive system. The immune system is suppressed and your endocrine system becomes imbalanced, which can leave you prone to infections and fatigue. During times of increased and frequent stress, there is also a greater demand on the body for resources and nutrients are depleted more rapidly.
The result of chronic stress is a body that not only can’t function optimally, but that also becomes less tolerant to stress. That’s right – one of the symptoms of prolonged stress is becoming even more sensitive and susceptible to that stress.
While living without stress may not feel realistic for you, there are some ways that you can support your body and brain in minimizing the harmful effects:
1. Focus on foods with high nutritional content.
Your first instinct when experiencing non-stop stress may be to eat unhealthy foods or even to not eat at all. Because being stressed requires the use of a lot of nutrients, focusing on nutrient-dense foods is essential. Remember to relax when eating – eating on the go and when stressed out interferes with proper digestion.
2. Get your B’s and C.
The B vitamins and vitamin C are key components of an anti-stress protocol. Not only are they significantly depleted during stressful times, but B5 and C are needed for the proper functioning of the adrenal glands. Vitamin C can also help support your immune system, which may need all the help it can get during times of chronic stress.
3. Skip the coffee
Your body does an interesting thing when it’s under a great deal of stress: the constant cortisol shots firing can actually impact your body’s ability to create cortisol when it’s needed. This may leave you feeling less than refreshed in the morning – when the natural cortisol spike that happens to help wake us up is no longer as strong – and especially run down mid-afternoon – when the natural cortisol dip may turn into a dive if it’s not being properly produced. All of this will likely have you reaching for a little help from a friend called coffee. Resist the urge. Caffeine can put your body in a state of stress, which can further compound the problem.