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Stress, The Silent Killer!

Written by: Melissa Deally, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Did you know that 90% of ALL doctor’s visits are related to stress? Not only that, 60% of all diseases are caused by stress! And yet are you one of the millions of people around the world, stuck in a state of chronic stress, trying to get it all done, be a great spouse, build your career, put meals on the table, get kids to all their sports events, look after your parents and more? Just writing all of that feels stressful to me, and it is!!! Here’s the thing, we see everyone else is stressed out and we simply accept it as normal, and don’t even stop to think how this constant high level of stress is impacting our health. Right?

The world is the most stressed out it’s ever been and that was true even before COVID-19 hit, it’s even worse now after living with a pandemic and all the mandates and restrictions for the past 2 years. In fact, according to a ‘Global Emotions Survey’ in Forbes, Gallop surveyed 160,000 people in 116 countries in late 2020 and early 2021 only to conclude that 2020 “officially became the most stressful year in recent history”, and that the world was a sadder, angrier, more worried and more stressed-out place than it has been at any time in the past 15 years. But, you probably didn’t need to read the results of a poll to know that, you’ve lived it, experienced it and understand it firsthand.


Do you ever wonder why you can eat a whole meal and are hungry again soon after? If the meal isn’t being digested properly, you won’t feel satiated. The “COVID 15” is definitely a combination of things ‒ working from home and the kitchen is nearby, it’s easy to graze! When stressed, we aren’t digesting our meal, and don’t feel satiated as I said above, not to mention stress will often trigger emotional eating ‒ is that you? And of course for some of the past 2 years, depending where you live in the world, it was hard to get to the gym as they were closed, you may not have been able to even go outside for a walk, and if you tried to buy gym equipment to work out at home, the stores were all sold out!! So we experienced weight gain. One side effect of stress…


Let’s just talk about what happens in the body under chronic stress, so you can begin to understand the impact it has on your health. When we know better we do better! When you understand this, you’ll be able to make better choices around your own self-care and actively choose to lower your stress. Your health and your life are worth it!!


When you are in a state of chronic stress, which most people are, your “sympathetic nervous system” is switched on. This is also referred to as being in a state of “fight or flight”. You may not think you are, but your brain does, as it senses danger ‒ and it doesn’t know the difference between you being chased by a lion, or you having a crazy day that had you wake up, get breakfast for the family, have a spat with your spouse, the kids are acting up and now you are late getting them out the door, which makes you late for work, and you get in the car only to realize you also need to get gas and then there is an accident on your route, which means you’re never going to make it on time for your presentation today. Then your boss calls, and wants to know where you are, as he wants to make a change to the presentation and you feel like your head is going to explode, or you just want to stop the car and pull over and cry…do you relate to this? It’s so common. During all of this, your brain is trying to do what it’s supposed to do ‒ keep you safe, and so it is pumping your body with cortisol and adrenaline so you can flee to safety and get away from that lion. At which point you can then relax and calm down and get out of “fight or flight and back into your “parasympathetic nervous system” otherwise known as “rest and digest”.


However, in our modern world that’s not how it works, you finally get to the office, go in and see your boss, and he gives you not just 1 change, but 5 changes to the presentation, then you have to reprint the handouts and get to the meeting (which has been delayed until your arrival) and start presenting, only to find you’ve left your power cable at home, or the projector won’t work, or the school calls and your child just vomited and needs to be picked up….you get my point, something else happens, so you don’t get to calm down and rest, you are perpetually thrown back into “fight or flight”. There’s always one more thing, or it seems like that when you’re stuck in a state of chronic stress.

When we are in this state of chronic stress and the body is pumping out extra cortisol and adrenaline to give us the energy to fight or flee, other systems in the body that use energy get shut down ‒ the top 3 of which are:

  • Immune system (yes, keeping out foreign invaders to keep you healthy takes energy)

  • Digestion (every time you put food in your mouth it uses 30% of your energy ‒ and that is if you have a healthy digestive system, if it’s unhealthy it can use even more energy!)

  • Procreation (The brain knows you’re not going to stop and make a baby when you are trying to get out of danger!).

Let’s unpack those a little more.


Can you see how living in a state of chronic stress is negatively impacting your health? Think about it, do you get sick when you’ve been under a lot of stress? I bet you do, I know that used to always happen to me, I’d get sick the day I was going on holiday! I’d worked my butt off to get ready to go and then I’d get sick, because I was run down and my immune system was weakened from all that stress…this happened for years and I never really knew why as back when I was in the corporate world, I didn’t know what I know today. Knowledge is power as with greater knowledge we can make different choices.


If we’re not digesting our meals properly, we’re also not fueling our body well to support our immune system and recover quickly, in fact under stress we are burning through our key vitamins and minerals and not replacing them, leaving us deficient. Are you feeling like you’re dragging your butt? I haven’t even mentioned how stress impacts sleep yet! The good news is that if you are low energy and feeling depleted, we can run labs to find out your vitamin and mineral levels and then support your body in eliminating those deficiencies. You can read about the lab tests in a previous article I wrote, “Wondering Why You Feel The Way You Do?”


Under stress, the body decides, “I need more cortisol, let’s stop producing progesterone as that isn’t needed right now, cortisol is more important” and as such, this causes hormonal imbalances because the body still makes estrogen AND we get xenoestrogens into our body from outside sources that mimic our own estrogen and suddenly we have too much estrogen relative to our progesterone level. This is known as estrogen dominance. This is something we definitely don’t want, as it is known to slow the thyroid as well as it can trigger blood sugar imbalances and is a known cause of breast cancer. Yet I see this estrogen dominant state in over 80% of the labs I review with clients, because we live in a stressed out world. The good news is that when I see it in a lab, it’s often an “early warning sign” for my clients and we can take steps to rebalance our hormones, in many cases BEFORE it triggers those side effects. If you want to know more about the relationship between stress and your hormones you can read my previous article “Are Your Hormones Driving You Crazy?”


Now let’s talk about sleep! We all know stress impacts our sleep, but did you know sleep also impacts our stress? Good sleep makes you more stress-resilient, so you can bounce with the punches that each day brings, whereas poor sleep doesn’t allow you to bounce, you simply crash, and by that I don’t mean fall into a deep sleep ‒ but wouldn’t that be nice? I mean an energy crash. Yet stress can have you lying awake at night, trying to fall asleep, but you can’t, as your mind is going 100 miles an hour still. Or maybe you fall asleep easily out of sheer exhaustion, but then you wake up and can’t get back to sleep as your mind won’t shut off. High stress has cortisol running through your body remember? Well, guess what, cortisol and melatonin are inverse hormones, and cortisol should be highest in the morning to give you energy to start your day and lowest at bedtime, because melatonin needs to be highest then, so you can get into a deep, restorative sleep. But if cortisol is still too high at bedtime, your body won’t be able to produce the melatonin you need. I see this in lab tests all the time too. We are diurnal creatures (the opposite of nocturnal) and we are beings of nature, that means our body clocks are designed to flow with the sun ‒ we are supposed to start waking up at dawn and start getting ready to sleep at dusk. Dusk signals the brain to start producing melatonin, only due to the advancement of electricity our brain no longer gets the signal of dusk, unless you are out camping! So it doesn’t automatically start producing melatonin and it certainly won’t even try if cortisol is still flooding your body. The ideal time for humans to go to sleep is between 10 ‒ 11 pm, as that is when melatonin should be at its highest and cortisol at its lowest, but stress messes with that system too. So you can’t sleep, you wake up tired, cranky and much less stress-resilient for your day.


There’s a lot more I could dive into like the risk of heart health issues, gut health issues, strokes and more, but I think you already fully understand how stress negatively impacts your health, but what can you do about this? Well, I know this will sound crazy, as if you’re already so busy, how will you find the time to do this, but you need to factor some quality self-care time into your day. Now before you ignore me and stop reading thinking “that’s impossible”, just hear me out, as I was once where you are now…overworked, overwhelmed, stressed out with no time. But I had someone tell me that ‘self-care is the most selfless act’, and that resonated, as I of course was so busy looking after everyone else I didn’t think I even had a right to look after me…but what good was I to anyone else if I burned out? So I made my own mantra:

“Self-care is the most selfless act, because it allows you to show up and give the world the BEST of you, instead of what is LEFT of you.”


I recited this daily, I posted stickies on the walls to remind myself, that not only was it okay to look after myself first, but that it was vital for everyone in my life. Then I did a few other things:

  • Scheduled my yoga time into my calendar, so I would actually go.

  • Asked my husband to help with getting the kids up and out in the morning, so I could get to yoga 3 days/week

  • Built 5-minute breaks into my day to stop, go outside and simply breathe the fresh air and when possible feel the sun on my face (this helps drop you out of the fight of flight really well)

  • I used some adaptogenic herbs to help my body better cope with the stress and calm my nervous system

  • I stopped going from staring at a screen straight to bed, expecting to be able to sleep on demand, and instead read a book for 10 minutes, sometimes I had a bath and read my book for some extra self-care time!

And I soon realized I felt better, I was sleeping better, waking up feeling more rested and therefore more resilient to the stresses of my day. I had better focus at work, so I could actually get more done in less time, which meant I had more time for my little breaks during the day, which further helped lower my stress. I know it sounds crazy to ask an overwhelmed person to find more time in your day, but I promise if you start out by asking for some help and doing things in 5-minute increments, you will find more time, just like I did, because you become more productive!


There are definitely more things you can do to lower your stress as you create more time, here is a list, which is by no means exhaustive, it’s just some of the things I’ve done myself and you can choose ones that resonate with you:

  • Yoga

  • Meditate

  • Deep breathing

  • Get out in nature for a walk or to just sit and be still

  • Take a bath

  • Call a girlfriend just to catch up and laugh

  • Watch a funny movie or show

  • EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) otherwise known as “Tapping”

  • Take a social media vacation ‒ leave the phone behind for a while! (The constant ping of alerts can set off your nervous system and put you in the stress state!)

  • Improve your diet to give you more energy, improve your digestion to lower the stress on your body of breaking down your food

  • Get someone else to come to clean your house or watch the kids, to give you a much needed break.

There are many more things you can do, choose what works for you and just get started in small doses It will make a huge difference in a short amount of time, I promise. I remember the ‘ah-ha’ that I had, when I realized I was no longer living in that chronic stress state ‒ my teenage daughters were being their typical selves, pushing my buttons, but I found myself no longer reacting to them. Instead of “overreacting” and screaming/yelling, I found myself calmly saying “oh really, why do you think that happened?”. They were just as surprised as I was, and it was a beautiful moment, when I realized “wow, look at how calmly I just responded, I don’t feel all worked up” and that was when I knew that the effort I was putting into my own self-care was not only benefiting me and my health, but also everyone around me was positively impacted too!

I invite you to do a check in with yourself, are you worth it? We don’t just wake up sick one day and get a diagnosis of an illness, that illness ahs been brewing inside of us over time, in our stressed out bodies with weakened immune systems. What can you do today to start lowering your stress levels and improving your health as a result? Do you need to check and see how your stress levels are impacting your hormones, your digestion, your sleep, your vitamin and mineral levels, as if so, I can certainly help you with that. Just reach out by emailing me at melissa@yourguidedhealthjourney.com or go to my website https://yourguidedhealthjourney.com and book a call with me for a complimentary consultation.


Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


 

Melissa Deally, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Melissa Deally is an Integrative Health Practitioner & Registered Health Coach, dedicated to helping her clients get to the root cause of their health issues and truly heal. Melissa’s business is 100% virtual, and she works with the entire English speaking world. Melissa uses a 2 prong approach:

  1. Discover your toxic load and lower it

  2. Discover your body’s imbalances and support them with natural supplements and herbs so the body can come back into balance, at which point it will heal itself. This is done through the use of Functional Medicine lab tests, mailed to your home!

Melissa offers a very high level of support, to ensure her clients’ success, as we navigate the path bringing the body back into balance, while creating new lifestyle habits to ensure lasting results.


Melissa is the winner of the 2021 Quality Care Award by Businesses From The Heart, and has been featured in Pursuit 365, and Fresh Magazine, featuring 365 Canadian Women who lead by example in the everyday pursuit of success, happiness, and achievement. Melissa is also the host of the “Don’t Wait For Your Wake Up Call!” podcast, a podcast offering practical education around health, which ranked in the top 5% of Global podcasts by Listen Notes in the first 3 months of launching.

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