What Is Stress Doing To You?

In our video blog on stress, we talked briefly about what stress is and how it can affect your health.  This is a follow up to discuss a bit more about what stress looks like and what it can do to your body.  The reality is that chronic stress can affect all of the different systems (cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, immune, etc) that make up our bodies, directly or indirectly.  So what exactly is stress?

We know that stress is subjective--what is "stressful" to one person may not be to another.  It is also important to know that the effects of acute stress are different from the effects of chronic stress.  Acute stress is often actually a good thing.  At a primal level, activation of the stress response helps us focus, keeps us alert, and is at the core of our survival instincts.  Perhaps a more relevant example of acute stress for us today is exercise, which kicks into the "fight or flight" response that gets our heart rate going, increases blood pressure and respiration, and recruits blood to our muscles.  Typically we exercise for a couple hours max, but imagine running daily marathons with no rest days--what would this do to our bodies?  Eventually we would crash hard, mentally and physically.  Unfortunately, this is what is happening to many of us in North America.

The effects of chronic stress comes from constant stimulation of the "fight or flight" response.  Chronic stressors these days comes from the combination of work + family + finances + school + friends + whatever else.  We are constantly rushing from one meeting or appointment to the next, not eating or sleeping well, and then ignoring the signs that we need a break.  Maybe work/ school is like a 10 hour  "marathon" everyday with no finish line in sight--this is where stress-related illness rears its ugly head.  

Maybe this is happening to you right now!  Some of the signs and symptoms include:

  • Fatigue (surprise, surprise)
  • Sleep disturbances (too many things on your mind, or your body can't relax)
  • Digestive issues like constipation or diarrhea or both ("rest and digest" response requires the "fight or flight"response to quiet down)
  • Emotional lability (ie. you are grumpy all the time or cry at the drop of a dime)
  • Constantly worrying
  • Feelings of anxiety (butterflies in your stomach, heart beating of your chest, etc)
  • Inability to concentrate or poor memory (no, you aren't just getting older)
  • Frequent colds/flus (your immune system is compromised so even though you were once the "picture of health" you aren't anymore)
  • And the list goes on
Perhaps these symptoms are things you feel you can "deal with" for the time being.  Eventually, your body tries to figure things out and over a few years of a high stress lifestyle, you may start to develop (or worsen) one or more of these conditions:
  • Mental health:  depression, anxiety
  • Cardiovascular/respiratory:  high blood pressure, high cholesterol, angina, other heart diseases, migraines
  • Endocrine:  diabetes, adrenal fatigue/insufficiency
  • Skin:  eczema, cold sores
  • Digestion:  irritable bowel syndrome
  • Musculoskeletal:  chronic pain, tension headaches, poor muscle recovery
  • Immune:  autoimmune conditions, nagging colds/flus
  • Etc
To sum it all up, stress is inevitable and sometimes necessary for relatively short periods of time.  As soon as you start to see some of those signs listed above, it's time to consider things that will help to manage your stress.  

Think it's time to finally start dealing with the real cause of your symptoms?  Find a naturopathic doctor in your area, or check out www.DNHC.ca to see Dr. Christine if you are in the Durham region.

All the best,

Photo from www.corbisimages.com

Dr. Cho, ND is a naturopathic doctor based in Pickering, Ontario and Richmond Hill, Ontario.  She maintains a private practice focused in pain management and sports nutrition, in addition to a general family practice at Durham Natural Health Centre.  To learn more about Dr. Cho, book a complimentary 15 minute consult by clicking here.  Not in the Durham Region?  Contact her through AnAvocadoADay@gmail.com to learn about more options.


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