Stress Management and the influence of stress
In today’s society, we are always busy. If not with work, we are busy with sports, friends, learning, social media and much more. All day long we are on and all day long our brain has to process all kinds of stimuli. The art of doing nothing at all is one that not many people have mastered.
Just try sitting in a chair for five minutes and doing nothing. And by nothing, I mean really nothing. That includes not reading a book or scrolling through your phone. Stare outside or if necessary through the geraniums…. 🙂 but really try to do nothing. Pretty tough huh? I’ve recently learned that we should try to do that for an hour each day. Our brains will thank us for it. (but I am notoriously bad at it!)
Now there is stress and stress. Our body needs stress in order to function so stress is not always necessarily a bad thing.
Does that exist? Yes it does. Positive stress (Distress) has a positive effect. Think for example of the classic fight/flight response. Very useful if you are chased by a wolf/tiger/lion. But too much of a good thing or too long and positive stress can have a negative effect.
Another variation of positive stress is for instance the stress your body gets when you take a cold shower or an ice bath. That does produce a stress reaction in your body but it is short and intense and will only result in making your body stronger.
However, the problem in our current society is that we are always going. There is hardly ever any natural relax period. And even positive stress can then eventually result in negative stress. Exercising too much is just as detrimental as exercising too little.
The moment you experience stress, your body puts certain functions on hold. These include digestion, your libido, fertility and the repair of existing damage.
Sympathetic and parasympathetic
The hypothalamus is the helmsman of your nervous system and regulates the sympathetic and parasympathetic activity of your nervous system.
The sympathetic prepares you for action (fight or flight mode) and is active during physical activities, as well as when you are under too much stress.
The parasympathetic (rest and digest) is the opposite of the sympathetic and regulates your rest, digestion and recovery.
Too much stress (think also improper diet, too much exercise, too little exercise, poor sleep and little relaxation) prevents your body from entering homeostasis.
Homeostasis is the situation in your body where everything is in balance. The moment the sympathizer is overactive, all kinds of disturbances can occur in your body. Think of your body temperature, acidity, oxygen pressure. your energy level (ATP) and your blood pressure.
The consequences of (chronic) stress
If you want to get healthier and change your lifestyle, healthy eating and exercise are just two pieces of the puzzle. As long as you do not control your stress, you will continue to fight against it.
Leaky gut/immune system
One of the consequences of prolonged stress is that the barrier of your gut can become increasingly permeable. We also call this a leaky gut . The reason for this is that you can then more quickly absorb water, sodium and glucose from your diet and immediately utilize them to take quick action. Because, of course, that was traditionally the function of stress. There is nothing wrong with that in itself, but it also means that unwanted substances can enter our body.
Think of toxins, undigested proteins and bacterial remains of pathogenic bacteria. This activates your immune system and causes an inflammatory reaction.
If this is chronic and prolonged, a chronic inflammatory reaction occurs. Basically, you don’t notice it right away. It is also called low-grade inflammation and can be responsible for all kinds of vague (or less vague) complaints.
Reducing chronic stress
I immediately admit that this is probably one of the trickiest parts of your new lifestyle. Exercise and nutrition are easier to control but stress can have so many causes that changing them is often easier said than done. Especially in these strange times, stress is lurking. But you can do something to reduce chronic stress.
- Meditation (yoga or mindfulness).
- Skin contact with other people or animals
- Walking in nature
- Grounding (walking barefoot through the grass).
Of course, the best way to reduce (psychological) stress is to remove the cause. Maybe you realize that in order to remove certain stressors from your life, you might need help. Hiring a good therapist can then be a good solution. Sometimes talking to a close friend already helps, but of course every situation is different.
Unlike chronic stress, acute stress is healthy and makes us more resilient and less prone to chronic stress.
Acute stress – the name says it all – means that you are out of balance for a short time. Your body will always want to restore homeostasis as quickly as possible. Brief exposure to certain stressors trains your ability to adapt, so to speak. So you are better protected against chronic stress.
Examples of acute stress are:
- Ice bath
- Cold shower
- HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)
- Minor wounds
The latter is useful, for example, when working in the garden. Without gloves, small wounds are bound to develop quickly. That is also a form of acute stress and strengthen your health.
You may have heard of Wim Hof or the Wim Hof method. The man became famous for it and millions of people worldwide swear by his philosophy. I must confess that I haven’t dared an ice bath yet but I also find cold showering a challenge sometimes. However, I am willing to do it to strengthen my immune system.