Let’s paint a scene of chronic stress.
Lacy is a busy mom and employee. In the morning, she drinks her first cup of coffee while prepping breakfast and packing lunches. She scans the news headlines on her phone for a few minutes - seems like there’s nothing but bad news these days.
The morning routine has the usual issues: sleepy kids, missing shoes, forgotten homework, pointless fights over toys, and some yelling that she’s not proud of. Lacy gets the kids out the door to the bus, runs back in for her purse and travel mug with the second dose of coffee, and dashes out the door.
On the drive to work, her mind is full of all the things left undone - chores neglected, dinner not planned, she forgot to call her mom about the next get-together… A headache is already starting between her eyebrows.
At work, the deadlines demand every ounce of her energy. Her manager seems unhappy with her work, and she can’t afford to lose her job. Lacy skips the third cup of coffee. She’s too jittery anyways. She eats lunch at her desk, and tries to ignore the heartburn that always seems to crop up in the afternoon. Her back and neck ache by closing time.
She rushes home, knowing what’s waiting - hungry kids, a project she promised for her church, a last-minute dinner, a dozen emails to answer, a tense call with her sister, homework to help with, and maybe she can squeeze in a quick vacuum job.
She watches a show after the kids are asleep, just trying to turn her brain off for a while before falling into bed and bracing herself for the next hectic, demanding day…
Does any of that sound familiar? Lacy is living a life of chronic stress - and it could be causing serious damage to her body.
When you experience serious stress on a regular basis, your body and brain can get locked in a state of heightened tension. Your autonomic nervous system doesn’t get a chance to tell your body to relax before the next wave of stress kicks your nervous system into high gear again. This extended state of tension can lead to problems throughout the body.
Chronic stress can lead to semi-permanent muscular tension, which can trigger headaches, migraines, and long-term muscle pain.
It can interrupt the communication between your immune system and your brain, putting you at greater risk for infections and illness, chronic fatigue, obesity and diabetes.
Stress can trigger bloating, digestive pain, changes in diet, and GI disorders. Stress can also change your gut bacteria, which can have a negative impact on mood and brain function.
Chronic stress can cause inflammation of the coronary arteries, digestive tract (which can lead to IBD/IBS) and throughout the body, which impairs body function on a fundamental level. It also raises levels of adrenaline and cortisol in the body, which if raised over time, can increase your risk of hypertension, heart attack, stroke, and reproductive issues.
Learning about stress can be stressful, can’t it? Luckily, there are some effective ways to fight stress and its effects on the body.
1. Breathing Techniques: One popular technique is the 4-7-8 technique. Sitting still and straight with your muscles relaxed, breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, pulling in the air by extending the diaphragm and abdomen. Gently hold your breath for 7 seconds. Exhale through half-closed lips, making a gentle “woosh” sound, for 8 seconds.
Repeat this several times, focusing your mind on your breaths. This reduces mental stress, and gives your nervous system a chance to reset.
2. Meditation/Prayer: There are multiple online resources and apps that have audio and video tracks that you can follow. Body scan meditation, in particular, can help you reduce physical tension. Some options include the apps Calm, Insight Timer, Unplug, and Headspace, and the websites UCLA Mindful, UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness, and Mindfulness Exercises.
3. Say No: Our lives are busier than ever. Technology has given us the power to be incredibly efficient, and busy-ness has become the standard way of life. If you’re feeling stretched thin and you are stressing over all of the events and deadlines you’re facing, it may be time to start saying no. Take an hour to step back and calmly review all of your commitments. Identify the areas that cause you the most stress, and if possible, find a way to step away from them (even if it’s only for a few weeks or months).
4. Get Tested and Get a Plan: Want to get more in-depth about how to help get rid of stress and help your body and mind heal from stress-related damage? Reach out to a functional medicine practice!
Here at Illuminate Wellness, we have the diagnostic tools and health resources to create a stress management plan that is tailor-made to your life and needs. Click here to get your free phone consultation and take your first step towards healing.