Being exposed to chronic stress is one of the biggest, underestimated, long-term threats to our physical and mental health.
For most of us, chronic stress is negatively influencing our health far more than we would think: We age faster and get grey hair during a particularly stressful episode, stop sleeping through the night, our body (cells, organs etc.) cannot repair itself, our nerves lie blank and we get angry and into arguments easily, our digestive and detox system cannot cope anymore. Allergies and intolerances can worsen or even be triggered during a stressful time. High blood pressure, cancer, hormone imbalances, depression, and coronary heart disease are other possible consequences. Women are twice as likely to develop an auto-immune disorder than men, whereby chronic stress is likely to play a crucial role.
Every person has a weak spot in their body, which is where we usually feel first that something “is off”. For one person it might be tension in the neck and shoulder area which might give a headache, for another, it might be an easily upset stomach or a difficult menses after an especially troublesome month…
For most of us, chronic stress is negatively influencing our health far more than we would think
If we choose to ignore the signs our body is showing to communicate with us, things often quickly worsen. Before you know it, life starts to get difficult. If we then don’t make the necessary changes because we are too occupied with our routine and daily life, it is not uncommon to see a downward spiral in our health that affects our personal and professional life.
Many of us don’t even realize how stressed we have become. Tight deadlines, always being available, rushing from one thing to another leave us no space to breathe. Even holidays can be stressful due to family tensions, a full sight-seeing program or too many traffic jams… Often we don’t realise how stressed we are until we start to slow down, often because of an illness or other life-changing events that force us to rethink everything.
How does chronic stress show in the body?
A person that is suffering from chronic stress is likely to have at least one or rather a combination of the following symptoms: sleep problems, digestive issues, fatigue or lack of energy, pain in the body, emotionally imbalanced often due to lack of sleep and poor nutrition, weak immune system, unhealthy looking skin, dark circles under the eyes or fertility issues. Very often people who suffer from chronic inflammation, thyroid and auto-immune disorders also suffer from chronic stress.
Why is chronic stress so toxic and bad for us?
Our nervous system is composed of two components: the fight-or-flight (sympathetic nervous system) and the rest-and-digest system (parasympathetic nervous system). If our body is constantly in fight-or-flight modus, our stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are constantly high and don’t come down when they should. Our cortisol levels are naturally the highest in the morning and should be lowest during the night while we sleep.
If too many stress hormones are present in the body, we won’t be able to absorb the nutrients from the food we eat, we will have trouble sleeping through the night, wound healing slows down (creams containing cortisol are commonly prescribed against f.ex. inflamed or highly irritated skin as cortisol brings down inflammation). We gain weight and have higher blood sugar levels.
Fertility is also part of the rest-and-digest system, which is why relaxation and reduction of stress are so important for fertility, pregnancy and the birth process. If we are too stressed, the powerful stress hormone cortisol will overpower the female sex hormones and mess up our fertility or disturb the natural birth process.
For some of us being artificially busy is a way to prevent ourselves from feeling lonely or contemplating about our life. Bear in mind that change is a process, and creating space for it to happen is essential.
7 Ways to reduce your stress levels
- Spend time in nature. Go for a walk or do other outdoor activities. Team up with a friend or post in a forum to find a buddy if you won’t go by yourself.
- Exercise. It doesn’t really matter what you do, but move! Try a sport or activity you have always wanted to learn. If that one doesn’t work for you, try another one.
- Relax (doesn’t mean watching Netflix or drinking a glass of wine!). Find a yoga or meditation class, learn to play a musical instrument, paint or take a pottery class.
- Eat healthy food. This usually means home-cooked. So get a cookbook, visit a wet market, and just try making some easy and fast dishes
- While on the train or waiting, try leaving your phone in your bag and focus on your breath instead. It’s ok to let your mind wander. This is how our brain processes what is going on in our life.
- Sort out your relationships, especially that one with yourself. It won’t be easy and might at times be painful, but it’s often one of the most powerful ways to get better and change your life in a positive way.
- Change your routine. If you are too busy to take care of yourself, it means there is some potential for change.
Remember, it’s either living your life as it currently is, and possibly being neither well nor happy, or start making some small, but powerful changes in your life. Contact me if you would like me to support you in your journey to better health or would like to find out how natural remedies can help your body recover faster.
Jennifer Eisenecker is an ex-banker, German-certified naturopath, and business owner. Knowing how limited time and mind space often are, her recommendations are practical, easy to follow, and as simple as possible.
Jennifer’s multi-disciplinary approach involves going back to basics, looking at health from a trauma-aware perspective, and achieving health by calming down the nervous system to optimize your body’s innate ability to rebalance itself. She loves herbs and natural remedies.