We are in the most beautiful season of the year! Instead of feeling gratitude, love, and peace, many of us feel the pressures and stress of the holidays. Hans Selye, an endocrinologist in the mid-1900s, defined stress as a nonspecific response of the body to any demand. A stressor is any agent or event that produces stress at any time. This can be something good and pleasant like planning a wedding or the birth of a baby and is called EUstress. Or it can be something negative like an illness or a broken relationship and is called DIStress. Stress can affect us physically, mentally, and emotionally. It is estimated that a majority of medical office visits are due to stress in some form.
What Are Stressors?
There are infinite kinds of stressors that have crept into our lives in the past 100+ years. For instance, in 1900 the average number of hours slept per night was nine. Recent research shows the current average to be 6.1 hours, and that alone is a stressor! We are now exposed to environmental toxins of all kinds including poor air, food, and water quality as well as electronics, the internet, and social media. Our ancestors were not always “plugged in” with their face in a screen. Stress can also come in the form of physical illness that is unrecognized or untreated. This could include latent infections such as Epstein Barr, herpes and other viruses, molds/fungus, or tick borne illnesses. There is also an epidemic of intestinal bacterial imbalance. That can cause things like food sensitivities, asthma/allergies, poor digestion, and autoimmune diseases.
How Does Our Body React to Stress?
The body’s stress response, often called fight, flight, or freeze can affect every body system. It can cause increased blood pressure and heart rate, hypervigilance, dilated pupils, decreased digestion, and increased cortisol which increases blood sugar. This response can last minutes to hours. The real threat to health happens when the stress response becomes chronic and never turns off. This starts to negatively affect the adrenal glands. The symptoms and disease states listed below are just some of the many things that can manifest as a response to the chronic stress.
- Chronically elevated blood pressure and heart rate
- High or low blood sugar
- Decreased immunity- think infections and cancers
- Poor concentration and memory
- Stomach/intestinal dysfunction
- New or worsened PMS, periods, or menopausal symptoms
How Do We Keep Stress From Killing Us?
As you know, some stressors do not go away, but for others we can set healthy boundaries. I coach my patients to politely say NO and it is so empowering! Sometimes it is helpful to make a list of the things in life that energize and feed you and another of the things that drain you. The basics of self-care apply here. This includes getting 7-9 hours of restful sleep, eating minimal sugars and processed foods and more veggies and healthy oils, drinking mostly water and avoiding sugary drinks. Gentle exercise such as walking, yoga, and Pilates is also helpful. Vigorous exercise stresses the adrenal glands. Listen to your body! Rest when it says rest and give it the foods and movement it needs.
There are also many other stress management tools I prescribe. Some of those include prayer, meditation and breathing exercises, LAUGHTER, body/mind work such as cranio-sacral therapy, massage, acupuncture, medical Reiki, chiropractic treatment, AND emotional/spiritual counsel. There are several supplements and herbal remedies, as well as essential oils, that I recommend. They can help to manage the symptoms of stress and support the adrenal glands.
If you are having trouble managing stress and its many ill effects, I would love to help you get back to your best self! Let go of society’s, as well as your own, skewed expectations this season. We want you to be able to enjoy the peace of the presence of the One who was sent to us as a baby to save us from this chaos!
-Susan Julian, NP, Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner