The Importance of Stress Management: Why Stress is Harmful to Your Health
Most people underestimate the importance of stress management. Sure, you hear about the benefits of yoga and how meditation can be life-changing, but how many of us actually do those things?
The reality is, stress management can be key to enhancing your health and even reaching optimal health. Stress can negatively impact your body in ways I bet you didn’t even consider!
When people learn about the impact that stress has on the body, it seems to be a bit more motivating to actually incorporate those stress-reducing practices into your daily routine.
What Stress Does in the Body
While stress often gets a bad rap, stress does benefit your body in times of danger. Back when our ancestors were living, the body’s stress response was a bit more vital for survival than in today’s times. They experienced being chased by bears, while we stress over finances... because we are trying to keep up with the Jones’. A bit different, right?
While our stress is mostly non-life-threatening, our body doesn’t decipher the two. All it can tell is that you are stressed out. And so your body responds as though you are in a life-threatening situation.
Stress Activates Your Fight or Flight Mode
When this occurs, your body goes into what we call a fight or flight mode. Your sympathetic nervous system kicks in, and your body shifts its energy into processes that could help you get out of a life-threatening situation.
Cortisol hormone spikes
Blood pressure and blood sugar increases
Brain gets your body ready to fight, so it prevents sleep
Digestion and immune system gets halted because energy is going elsewhere
You can see how this could be beneficial when you’re in dangerous situations but problematic when you’re just stressing about your job, getting the kids out the door, or just keeping your life going smoothly!
Chronic Stress and Your Health
If we’re honest, many of us stress on a daily basis, right? This inhibits your body from returning to a parasympathetic state, where your body is able to focus on digestion, immune support, reproduction function, and sleep.
If your body isn’t able to optimally rid toxins, prioritize immune function, and allow itself to restore and repair damaged cells, it’s the perfect condition for chronic disease to manifest.
Chronic stress left unaddressed can lead to numerous health issues like:
Gut damage (absorption process, intestinal permeability, mucus & stomach acid secretion, and GI inflammation)
Getting sick frequently
How Does Cortisol Affect Sleep?
Before chronic stress manifests into a chronic disease, your body may be giving you other signs that your cortisol is imbalanced… like sleep issues!
Normal cortisol levels peak in the morning. This tells your body to rise and shine and gives you that boost of energy to start the day. As you go throughout your day and into the evening, your cortisol levels should slowly continue to fall to allow your body to get ready to sleep.
However, if you’re stress out, continually thinking about your to-do list or other things in the back of your mind, your normal cortisol curve will flatten. Your cortisol curve can eventually drop to a consistently low level, OR your cortisol can even peak during the evening… not good!
So even though your body needs the rest, your body is getting signals saying otherwise (aka you’re WIRED AND TIRED!). Your high cortisol levels inhibit you from falling into deep, quality sleep. And like many of you may know, sleep is essential for optimal health!
Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Stress Management!
The good news is that you can incorporate healthy stress management practices into your daily life to help your body relax and transition back into “rest and digest” mode.
When you utilize stress management techniques, you are supporting:
Digestion, allowing toxins to be eliminated
Good immune health
Healthy emotional & mental wellbeing
Good gut health
How to Balance Cortisol Naturally
If you want to manage your stress and balance cortisol naturally, there are simple things you can do throughout your day and/or week that can help your mind and body relax to support your body’s stress response.
Adaptogenic herbs are herbs that help your body respond better to stress, balancing out your cortisol levels.
Here are some of my top favorite herbs for supporting appropriate cortisol levels:
Have you ever tried box breathing? Give it a try as you read this. After expelling all air from your lungs, breathe in deeply for 4 seconds, expanding the belly like a balloon. Hold the air in your lungs for 4 seconds. Then breathe out completely over 4 seconds. Repeat this several times. How do you feel? A little more relaxed?
Working on your mindset can be life-changing. When you think of stressful or bad thoughts, your body can’t tell the thoughts apart from a real-life event. If you stress and replay an argument you had with your partner days ago, your body will still act as if you are in that argument.
Working on your thoughts can improve your mental & emotional wellbeing and reduce your stress levels. When you realize that YOU are in control of your thoughts, your life can change dramatically.
Yoga and meditation practices together or separate can be huge for stress relief. There are numerous studies published that show how these practices reduce stress and cortisol levels, especially for those who are experiencing higher than normal stress.
Extra tips to get your cortisol balanced:
Get some natural sunlight when the sun rises, and go to bed shortly after the sun goes down. This supports your natural circadian rhythm.
Avoid screen time at night.
Wear blue light blockers when you’re on electronics in the evening... if you do have to get work done.
Get daily movement in - walks in nature, hikes, and dancing can be your choice of movement! You don’t have to go to the gym every day to get exercise.
Limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol, especially late in the day!
Get a massage (and use some essential oils while you’re at it!)
Keep a gratitude journal
Keep a planner and write down all your to-dos
Work with a Functional Medicine and Herbal Expert
It’s no debate that stress can put your body into chaos. Chronic stress can increase inflammation, wreak havoc on your hormones, and even damage your gut. To find out the true root issues of your health symptoms, work with me. I’m Jessica Meyers, a Functional Health Consultant, and Registered Herbalist.
With functional lab tests, personalized nutrition, supplement plans, and lifestyle guidance, you can get to those underlying issues to help your body respond better to stress. Make an appointment with me to get started today!