Stress….it has become a large part of our daily lives. There are constant demands for our time and attention that keep stress at chronically high levels. But because chronic stress has become common for so many people, the signs, symptoms, and feelings associated with it begin to seem normal. As a result, many fail to listen to the warning signs that their body is sending, and they can no longer recognize how high their stress really is or what damage it is doing to their health.
Stress is the number one contributor to chronic illness and disease. If it is going unchecked in your life, it will begin to manifest itself in the form of symptoms. If you tune out these symptoms and don’t begin to manage stress more effectively, your health will continue to deteriorate and disease will be the result.
The first thing that you must do to prevent this is to begin tuning into your body so that you can recognize the symptoms that are already occurring. If symptoms are present, it is a clear sign of imbalance in your body. Symptoms are not normal! They are a warning sign that all is not well in your body. But most people ignore symptoms until they are bad enough to affect quality of daily life.
When you face stress, whether real or perceived, the body releases the stress hormone cortisol which signals physiological changes in the body. The heart rate accelerates and breathing increases. Extra glucose is released by the liver as fuel for the muscles to prepare you to fight or run away. Function of your digestive and reproductive systems slows down to conserve energy. Thinking sharpens.
When you are in a chronic stress state however, these system responses can malfunction and cause symptoms to occur.
What are some of the common symptoms that are overlooked?
Have you gained some extra weight around your midsection and find that it’s difficult to get rid of it…even through diet and exercise? Chronic stress may be to blame! When you are stressed and cortisol is released, appetite will be increased as the body’s way of attempting to gather a reserve of fuel to help you respond to the stress – you need plenty of energy from glucose to run away from a bear, after all! Your body stores this energy reserve as fat. Therefore, many people often crave processed carbohydrates and fatty foods when stress is high. Although weight can accumulate throughout the body, the weight from stress tends to accumulate throughout the abdomen where cortisol receptors are found in higher amounts.
Do you find yourself picking up colds, flu and infections easily? Your immune system may not be functioning as well as it could, because of stress! When you first face a source of stress, the body strengthens the immune system so that you are protected against wounds and infection that could result from facing danger. But over time, the immune system cannot continue to function at a heightened level. So, it weakens and can no longer provide good protection against viruses and bacteria.
Do you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep? While insomnia can have other causes, stress is one of the major contributors to sleep problems. If you find yourself lying in bed at night with your mind racing, it may be stress. If you are exhausted and want to sleep, but feel wired and can’t, stress is the likely culprit.
It is not uncommon for pain to occur when you are dealing with chronic stress. Why does this happen? Well, stress causes muscle tension throughout the body that can manifest as headaches, backaches as well as pain in other areas. Stress also has a direct impact on the nervous system and can overstimulate the nerves, leading to nerve pain. When the adrenals become fatigued from prolonged periods of stress, the body releases more of the hormone prolactin, which can increase sensitivity to pain, making it worse.
Anxiety and mood
Cortisol and epinephrine are stimulants to the body and when they remain at high levels can produce anxiety. Chronic stress also reduces production of important neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin. Serotonin is a natural antidepressant and low serotonin levels are connected to increased depression.
During a stress response, energy is pulled away from the reproductive system and sex hormone production is kept at a minimum so that energy can be focused on facing the source of stress, whether it is real or imagined. So, if you find yourself struggling with a loss of sex drive, stress could be contributing.
It is common to feel knots in your stomach, feel nauseous or to have an upset stomach when you are feeling stressed. But when you are dealing with large amounts of long term stress, digestion can become impaired. When cortisol levels are high, the functioning of the digestive system is reduced so that any energy expended by the digestive process can instead be focused on fighting or running from the stressor. Production of hydrochloric acid is reduced and can lead to GERD, ulcers and out of control H. Pylori infections. If you experience acid reflux or other digestive upset, stress may be to blame.
In order to heal, it is important to pay attention to the warning signs your body is sending you. Tuning into yourself regularly, listening to your body, and making the changes that reduce stress can help you prevent nagging symptoms from occurring and can help you reduce those that you are currently experiencing.
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