It is National Stress Awareness Day so what better time for us all to reflect on our work life balance and how we each manage the pressures that we face in our daily lives!
We all encounter pressure every day. Short bursts of pressure can be good for us and motivating. When we are in a state of constant alert however, we can start to tip out of balance – things can then become stressful when we exceed our personal capacity to cope.
So what is stress and how does it impact us?
Stress is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as:
‘A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstance’s.
The Stress Response triggers ‘fight, flight or freeze’, which is when our body automatically rises to the challenge to support us dealing with the task in hand. As if by magic our body releases a whole cascade of hormones to help us.The main purpose is to produce a burst of energy to allow us to deal with the situation in hand – whether that is a report that needs completing, delivering that all important presentation, getting through the scary interview, getting the children to school on time – whatever it is – our body automatically does what it can to help get through it.
Part of this automatic response however, is the adrenal glands releasing transmitters that results in the production of the hormone cortisol.
The adrenals sit on top of the kidneys and play a key role by producing hormones that help your body to control blood sugar, burn protein and fat, react to stressors such as illness and injury and also to regulate blood pressure.
Too little cortisol and we feel fatigued. Too much and we get a loss of muscle and an increase in belly fat (!). To simplify a complex process, Cortisol stimulates the making of new glucose in the liver and also inhibits insulin from pushing glucose into cells. This results in an increase of glucose in the system, which we can use in times of stress so we can deal with the ‘danger’. In doing this, when levels are high it also partially shuts down the immune system, leaving us more susceptible to invading pathogens and bacteria.
More stress = a lower immune system!
So the higher your day-to-day pressure, the lower your immune system will be and the sicker you will get.
Cortisol also inhibits amino acids getting into muscle cells and also contributes to a decrease in calcium absorption. So …..
High cortisol = no bone or muscle growth.
Here is what else high cortisol does:
- Your blood pressure goes up
- Your blood flow decreases
- It acts as an antidiuretic so the body retains sodium
- Too little or too much interferes with the production of thyroid hormones
- It increases gastric acid causing reflux and other issues
- It disrupts the reproductive system causing infertility or miscarriage
- It can cause intense hunger and food cravings
So prolonged stress is linked to high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, addictive behaviours and obesity. Not good!
To be able to cope with whatever comes our way means we need our own personal mechanism for building up our inner resilience levels. Whilst we will all be coming at it from our own unique starting point, there are some fundamentals.
Exercise is the best thing you can do – often the last thing we feel like doing! – either because we are tired or just simply running out of time – but exercise is the fundamental thing that will help us all cope. Being active releases endorphins – our natural happy hormones that help to counter balance all the negative ones flying around in our system.
A healthy, balanced diet, time with friends and family, down time and relaxation techniques all play an essential role in keeping the balance and away from the slippery stress slope!
My next blog will give you all the key tools and techniques that you need to keep your stress levels in check.
In the meantime – be mindful and do all you can to keep the balance.