Nutrition and stress can have the greatest influences on our overall health. Each can significantly enhance our health or ruin it ever so slowly. Stress is often overlooked because it’s just a part of life. However, just brushing stress under the rug day in and day out can have significant effects on your state of well-being, from injuries to colds and everything in between.
Our bodies have an innate intelligence built into them. When we are put in a stressful situation, good or bad, our bodies check into what is called fight-or-flight mode. Depending on our experiences, perception and emotions, we either go the aggressive, forceful route or the more passive, submissive route.
Once we’re in fight-or-flight mode, our nervous and adrenal-cortical systems work full-time. The objective is to survive, no matter what the cost. Therefore, the immune system decreases efficiency, as do the digestive and endocrine systems. Everything else in the body takes a backseat to the task at hand.
Fight-or-flight mode triggers the release of a cascade of events and hormones. The infamous cortisol is one hormone released by the adrenal cortex. Cortisol has benefits as well as detriments. Our daily lives present us with numerous little stressors that add up. Persistent low levels of stress still trigger the fight-or-flight mechanism in our bodies.
Like our ancient ancestors, our bodies are not designed for a ton of stressful events. Yes, we do adapt and grow in the face of good stressors such as exercise. However, little nagging stressors will continue to add up within our bodies. Your body can only take a beating for so long. Remember giving your brother or sister Indian burns as a kid? That’s exactly what’s going on here. Negative stress stimulus may not leave a significant mark the first or even third time, but it will get worse. I’ve seen it with chronic injuries and illnesses. In order to be in optimal health, you must learn to manage stressors in your life or stress will eat you up.
Re-evaluate what could be stress stimuli in your life. Make a list of situations, places, things, people — anything that make you feel both bad and good. If any of these are not serving you or lifting you up, then it may be time to reorganize. A stressful relationship, a terrible job or even a two-hour commute to work is not worth it if it gets you bent out of shape. Your partner, your career or whatever else that is in your life should be lifting you up for the better. Deep down you know when something is not a positive stress stimulus, so stand up for yourself and your health.
If you know you are going to be undergoing a period of increased stress, then take proper precautions. Load up your meals with nutrient-dense foods, especially good fats and proteins. Avoid processed foods and alcohol for the time being. Spend time moving and exercising, but don’t beat yourself up if you cannot make a CrossFit or yoga class. Go on a walk. Disconnect yourself from the rest of the world at night and allow yourself to get real sleep. And above all, be realistic in your expectations.
— Lindsey Mathews