Is Stress Affecting Your Health?

Is Stress Affecting Your Health?

by Michelle on May 19, 2011

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I had the pleasure of attending a great local Nourishing Ways meeting on Tuesday evening where Micah McLaughlin, a local Naturopathic Practitioner from Continuum Healing, spoke about stress and how it relates to health. You might be surprised by how intertwined the two are!

Before we jump into stress, if you’re not familiar with naturopathy, it’s a really interesting concept that involves treating a person as a whole with the goal of addressing the root cause of a problem instead of just the symptoms. Naturopathy involves the use of herbs, essential oils, reflexology, and more. It also takes into account the importance of preventive medicine.

The outlook of naturopathy really makes sense to me. Treating only symptoms does nothing to actually solve a problem or figure out if something more is going on in the body. And why wait until you have a problem? Preventive medicine is a great way to ensure health long-term and perhaps even less costly overall.

You’ve probably noticed already that these naturopathic tactics sound a bit different than what you might get from a traditional medical doctor’s office. Just remember that the quickest, most convenient solution may not always be the best one!

Now getting into the stress and health discussion, a strong point that Micah made is that stress is the equivalent of fear to the body as it cannot distinguish the two. The body’s reaction is to get into “fight or flight”  mode where in the old days, you would perhaps be getting attacked by a predator and had to decide to run or fight back.

“Fight or flight” is that physical response to stress and every sense in your body dials in. Your heartbeat is loud and fast, you start sweating, breathing faster, your digestion slows down, the immune system backs off a little bit, and your pupils grow large to let in as much light as possible. You are geared for one purpose: survival.

Adrenaline from your adrenal glands (part of your nervous system) surges through your body and overall you are getting blood and oxygen circulating your body faster than normal. This can result in what you have probably heard of as super strength. Once all of this starts happening, even after the stressful event is over, it can take a while for your body to get back to normal.

Now, imagine if this was happening to you every single day as a result of stress, but your body was not truly in immediate physical danger. What a huge tax on your body to prepare for fight or flight, when realistically you may simply have a big project due, a meeting with the boss, or an overloaded schedule. There is no real physical threat to your body!

However, since our bodies cannot tell the difference between stress and fear, the same physical response occurs anyway. But eventually, your body will get tired. Your adrenal glands will get overworked and can succumb to adrenal fatigue. Everyone has limits!

Issues with adrenal glands can cause serious issues such as hot flashes, heart attacks, heart palpitations, allergies, high blood pressure, and more. Even digestion problems can be related. For example, sometimes even if a person is getting enough fiber and good bacteria (probiotics) for digestion, he or she can still be constipated from stress and the flight or fight response.

Specific signs of adrenal fatigue can include:

  • Sugar or salt cravings
  • Thirst (even when drinking plenty of water)
  • Inability to sleep well (perhaps too many thoughts going through head at night)
  • Tired all day
  • Have a hard time relaxing
  • Nervous/anxious
  • Hormone imbalance
  • Weight gain especially around the waist (even if you eat well and work out!)
  • Thin, dry, falling out hair
  • Not hungry

Other physical signs you can look for are a wiggly tongue (when some asks you to stick it out it should stay still) and large pupils even when shining light at them.

So taking a step back from the physical responses of stressful situations, you might wonder why a person might live in this manner of allowing stress to affect their life and health. Micah confirmed that this relates to the state of mind. Think about it- stress is mental! You can work yourself up mentally, prompting the physical reaction, or you can choose to not react that way to your environment.

Tomorrow, in a follow-up post, I’ll share more of Micah’s thoughts along with some of my own personal reflection and realizations. We’ll also dig further into the mental relationship with stress as well as different parts of the awareness and healing process.

Photo By: jetmedia

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