What is stress?
Most people talk about stress as something they feel. You probably relate it to an uncomfortable emotion such as frustration or anxiety. There is also a physical experience of stress in the form of tension, knots in the stomach or tight breathing. Stressed people look rigid and have crumpled, unhappy faces….at least these are all the expected signs. Did you know not all stress is conscious? And because your body is so amazing at adapting, you may not even know it is happening.
There are two types of stress that your conscious mind processes; acute and emotional.
We are built for survival, and the body focuses on what is vital. During an acute stress response your body wants you to notice stress. It is telling you to be alert and giving you the strength you need to survive. This is usually an uncomfortable experience but goes away when the stress goes away. In some cases, the rush of adrenaline from stress can actually feel good and gives you a boost of energy.
Now emotional stress is different. Emotional stress is there to tell you something isn’t quite right from an emotional perspective, it’s more intuitive. Maybe it’s a job you are struggling with or a relationship, maybe you need food or love. There is something the body feels and wants the mind to notice and do something about.
There are unconscious stressors that happen in the body every day, and although there are different forms of stress, the brain doesn’t really differentiate. The chemicals released in all stress responses are virtually the same, we get cortisol followed by inflammation. This is the stuff that causes damage to cells, suppresses immunity and just messes with your health in general.
Here are 5 types of stress that you may not be conscious of and how you can help your body cope:
1. Exercise – Soreness and micro tears on muscles increase cortisol, so any exercise that is “hard’’ can cause leave the body in a state of stress. Even yoga and pilates! Make sure you focus on recovery and have the right nutrition to fuel you. If you skip meals and eat junk you will slow your recovery.
2. Long work hours – Working hard and commitment to your job is great, but if you are sacrificing rest and pushing through, your body is likely under stress. Make sure you aim for balance, it’s better for your health and performance in the long term.
3. Poor digestion – The gut is the seat of your health. If you are experiencing long term digestive troubles this can cause systemic stress. Your gut flora is linked to mental health, immunity and general wellbeing. Make sure this is all thriving. There are amazing herbs, enzymes and probiotics which all support healing the gut.
4. Perfectionism – We live in a world where we admire flawless images and aspire to be perfect. But if your energy is always worried what others think, then your body will respond to this with internal stress. Your thoughts impact the chemicals triggered by your brain, so nurture positive thoughts and practice self-compassion. Be gentle when you make mistakes.
5. Environmental stress – Consider the amount of toxins, chemicals, processed food, sugar, caffeine, allergens, excess-stimuli and media that we are exposed to daily. All of these factors can impact various systems, which in turn trigger stress. Living a clean life, eating whole, organic foods and reducing exposure to toxins, is the best prevention to reduce the stress load on the body.
There is so much we can do to reduce underlying stress, but first we have to acknowledge it.
In doing this we can have a positive impact and improve the way we live, look and feel. A long term plan verses a short term response, is the best possible medicine. You can support your body in so many ways by giving it more loving kindness.
Don’t take your body for granted, and don’t wait for it to break down before you start noticing and appreciating how hard it works for you.