The Dangers of
By Debi Silber, MS, RD, WHC, FDN The Mojo CoachÒ
There are two types of stress. The first type is acute
stress. That’s where your body senses danger and adapts to the threat by making
physical changes, which enable you to quickly get out of harms way. This occurs because your body secretes
chemicals and stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These chemicals
are secreted in response to your thoughts and cause your body to prepare for
“fight or flight.” For example, let’s say you are crossing the street and you
notice a car quickly approaching. You see the car, which causes you to feel
fear and anxiety. (By the way, fear and anxiety are learned behaviors. We only
feel these feelings if we decide something is dangerous or anxiety provoking).
Your body then adapts to the stress by secreting chemicals and hormones, which
send messages to your heart, lungs and organs in order to prepare them to
handle your crisis. Your heart rate increases, blood flow is diverted to muscles
allowing for quick movement, your pupils dilate and more oxygen flows through
your lungs for an extra burst of energy. These changes allow you to react
quickly, enabling you to jump onto the curb to safety. Within a short period of time your body calms
down and things return to normal. This protective mechanism is crucial to your
safety and is designed to protect you against danger.
The other type of stress is chronic stress. With chronic
stress, chemicals and hormones, which were only intended to be secreted for a
short period of time, are continually being released. The stress response is engaged and not turned
off. Glands, which secrete these chemicals, don’t have an opportunity to
replenish or restore themselves to pre stress levels. Your body remains in a
state of hyper arousal and hormones that are meant to help and protect you are
over secreted and eventually depleted. It’s like turning on the hot water at
full force and leaving it on. Eventually, you’re going to run out of hot water.
Stress and the immune system are very closely linked. Your
immune system maintains internal harmony within your body. When it is healthy
and strong, it is in fighting shape to protect you against unwanted invasion.
One of the biggest dangers with chronic stress is that the over secretion of
chemicals suppresses your immune system. When this occurs, your body doesn’t
have the ability to fight off invaders as effectively, so you have less
protection against illness, stress related conditions and disease. The immune system
is directly affected by the way we handle stress. If it’s strong, it offers us
protection, if it is weak, it is unable to fight for us. (Have you ever noticed
how you may get a respiratory infection when you’re under a lot of stress? The
stress you were under caused a release of stress hormones, which weakened your
immune system and couldn’t protect you against the invader).
Stress hormones and chemicals are released according to
the way we think, feel and act. The way we think, feel and act is based on our
ideas, beliefs, value system, religious upbringing, personality, culture and
past conditioning. All of these variables determine how we are affected by
stress because they create how we view the world around us. Two people can
view the same event so differently based on their perspective. For example,
have you ever noticed how two people can view traffic? Once person can be seen
banging their steering wheel, cursing and flooding in a sea of stress induced
hormones. The other person can be seen catching up on phone calls, listening to
music and enjoying a quiet moment. It’s the same event for both, but how the
event is regarded is completely different and is based on the way each one
interprets the event. While we are all affected by stress differently, people
who are better equipped to handle the stressors in their lives are the ones who
enjoy the greatest health and wellness benefits. Their bodies aren’t
continually releasing stress hormones, which are causing immune system damage
along with other bodily wear and tear.
When these chemicals are being constantly secreted, over
time they can also cause stress induced conditions, illness and disease because
they alter the chemistry of your cells while weakening your immune system. When
hormones such as cortisol are depleted, autoimmune diseases can occur and
conditions like arthritis are common. When levels are abnormal, other problems
arise. Sleep quality, skin disorders, infertility, anxiety and delayed healing
are all common when stress hormones are out of balance.
Stress also affects the nervous system, which is directly
tied to the digestive system. Ever notice how you many feel gassy, bloated or
like you haven’t fully digested when you scarf down lunch? Your body
interpreted the stress you were feeling and decided that it was more important
to prepare you for the perceived battle than to effectively digest your meal.
Digestive disturbances are so widespread that they are now the largest
emergency room complaint. Conditions like reflux, irritable bowel syndrome and
ulcers are all so common and can all be tied to stress.
Stress also causes
us to age more quickly. This happens when cortisol is over secreted, there
isn’t enough and more needs to be produced. Levels are regained by borrowing
chemicals from our estrogen stores, which are needed to help retain youth and
vitality. Have you even noticed someone and thought, “Wow, that person looks
like they’ve had a hard life.” The way they’ve handled their stress is written
all over them.
Stress also causes weight gain. Here’s what happens. When
you’re stressed the stress hormones are released and increase your appetite for
high fat, high calorie foods. You then eat those foods and those are the foods
that encourage the release of stress hormones. It’s an endless cycle leading to
the over secretion of stress hormones, weight gain and frustration. These
hormones also encourage fat to be stored in your abdominal region, increase the
amount of glucose floating around in your blood and lay the groundwork for insulin
resistance, diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension and obesity.
If you’re an emotional eater, you’re in even bigger
trouble. Now you’ve added extra eating as way to self medicate to feel better
from your stress. You may choose foods high in fat and carbohydrates, which
give you a boost of the feel good chemical serotonin. You may also look for
comfort foods (typically loaded with fat and calories) as you hope to feel the
warm feelings when served these foods long ago. Finally, when stressed, you’re
simply not interested in label reading and making healthy food decisions
because you’re consumed by your stress. The extra effort to preplan healthy
meal planning may seem like an unwelcomed chore to add to your already
overcommitted plate. Between surges of stress hormones circulating, emotional
eating and less interest in healthy meal planning, you’re left with your
original stress, the feelings regarding your eating habits, excess weight, a
starting point for illness and disease and stress hormones on a rampage.
It’s important to realize that the stress response was
designed to be effective when used for short-term safety. Unfortunately, those
same chemicals that protect you from immediate danger, hurt you when they
continue to be released. To make matters worse, the body doesn’t know if the
stress is real or merely imagined. It will secrete stress hormones whether
you’re grieving over the death of a loved one, reacting to the craziness of
your day or replaying the pain, hurt or argument you had with someone years
We often don’t realize how the stress we feel can lead to
a physical response. It may be easier to accept that a physical response is due
to a physical cause. For example, you stub your toe, you scream out in pain.
But think of this. You hear something embarrassing or something that makes you
angry. The message is heard and interpreted by you according to the way you’ve
learned to think, feel and act. As a result, you turn beet red or blush. If
you’re nervous about something, you may feel “butterflies” or your hands may
get clammy. If you’re angry you may feel “your blood boil”, you may have a
“sour stomach” or you may feel heat coming off of you. All of these examples
are physical reactions to emotions. The message was heard, interpreted, chemicals
were secreted and you had a physical reaction to the message.
That’s just one incidence! Now imagine the stress of your
work, trying to be a good spouse, parent, coworker, sibling, friend or
neighbor. Add the need to be perfect, liked, approved, admired and respected.
Mix it with the stress, strain and anxiety of past hurts, grievances and
negative feelings stemming from an outlook or perspective that doesn’t serve
you well. What have you got? A recipe for stress related conditions, illness and
disease. While this may seem frightening, the beauty is you are in a wonderful
position to stop the stress response. Remember, your stress may not change.
What can change however is the way you choose to react to it.
Debi Silber, MS, RD,
WHC, FDN The Mojo Coach®, founder of www.TheMojoCoach.com is a leading health, fitness, wellness,
lifestyle, self-improvement expert and THE
secret behind some of the healthiest, most dynamic, energetic and successful
people today. Sign up for Debi’s deep dive video training series including “The
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