Stress: the Good, the Bad, the Evolutionary

Originally written for and posted on Sanandi.com

You’ve been hearing about the impact of stress on your health for years—sometimes we hear that the stress is bad, other times we hear that it’s a necessary part of our lives.

Truth be told, it’s both.

When we’re looking at the big picture or just thinking about the big “S,” it seems like such an insurmountable issue. So many things cause stress, how are you supposed to know what’s good and what’s bad for you?

Well, there’s good and bad news: the bad news is that everyone is different so different types and levels of stress effect everyone differently (for instance, I like to know the stress I’m getting into so I always start with the bad news)—we’ll give you some pointers on how to tell if the stress your under is negatively impacting you.

The good news is that stress isn’t so much of a big baddy—and it’s actually really small, and it’s actually always the same thing happening in your body.

What is “Stress”

Simply stated, stress is a couple of hormones that make you react the way you would if you were running from a bear… by the way, don’t run from bears.

Yep—whether you’re late for a meeting, running out of time on a deadline, hanging off a cliff, or standing naked in front of a new partner, your body is going through the same hormonal process when it comes to your feelings of stress (well, the naked thing should have other hormones involved too).

Most things in our bodies actually come down to basic functioning of various chemical messengers, stress is no different—but the hormonal messengers that communicate stress have a major influence on other messages sent throughout your body, which is the essence of why it impact your health.

The main hormonal messengers of stress are adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline

Even if you’ve never heard of this one, there is a 100% chance that you’ve experienced it.

It’s there when you get nervous or excited, when you’re angry or afraid—and at the first sign stress.

Adrenaline is released into your bloodstream by the adrenals and it’s what causes your heartbeat to speed up, along with your blood pressure to rise. This is because what adrenaline does is tell your body that you need to pump nutrients to your muscles so that you can physically react quickly.

Cortisol

Cortisol is the stress hormone that we talk about less often, but its equally important—and may have the larger impact.

While adrenaline tells your body to push nutrients to your muscles and floods your muscles with blood to feed them, cortisol is telling your body to make more nutrients available.

Cortisol is made in the adrenals and is actually a steroid that binds to the fat cells and digestive organs to tell them to release energy—and what does our body use for energy? Sugars (glucose).

So cortisol’s job is literally to tell your body to increase your blood sugar levels to better feel the muscles so you can deal with your stress.

Why Feed Your Muscles?

Well, you might not like this answer… but it’s because we don’t evolve very fast and when we evolved into the homosapien sapien species that we are today, our only real stresser was physical survival.

We were literally running and hunting on two legs, our biggest concern was whether we were having dinner or we were dinner—so you can see how shunting blood and extra nutrients into our muscles was a helpful evolutionary trait that helped our species get to where we are today.

Truthfully, it’s only been a few centuries of evolution from nomadic physical exertion, and it’s only been a few decades where our stressors were predominantly mental. Although we adapt quickly, it did take hundreds of thousands of years to reach the balanced reaction we have now.

And this reaction has served us well, which is the point. There is a lot of good to be found in the stress reaction, so don’t count it out.

When Stress is Good

Just the word “stress” is enough to make a lot of us feel anxious and worried, but remember that stress is just a term that gives a definition to a physical release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol.

Our bodies don’t have the energy to make useless hormones so like I said earlier, this reaction part of our evolution towards survival. Stress can help enliven us. It boosts our cells, nourishes our muscles, and feeds our passions.

Think about it like aerobic exercise, you want your blood pumping and your body motivated to stay healthy, but you don’t want that all the time, you’ll eventually get burned out.

You need the adrenaline boost for right before you go on stage for a big presentation or when your dog gets away from you and you chase her into the road (yes, that happened me this week, and boy did my heart pump hard).

You need the stress reaction to climax during sex and you actually need it to fight off really nasty pathogens.

That’s a pretty scattered list, but what do all of those things have in common? The stressor ends.

There is a specified reason for the reaction, it’s a reaction to an additional something out of your ordinary, and after it’s over your body can find your calm balance again and stay there until the next time you need the hormones.

In today’s society though, many of us walk around with our shoulders at our ears (put them down, right now) in a consistent state of stress, with a consistent production and use of adrenaline and cortisol.

When Stress is Bad

I think you can guess what I’m going to say here.

That chronic state of stress you’re finding yourself in—that’s when stress is bad for you.

Is it your job? Family? Finances? Hey, maybe you really are being chased by a bear. Whatever the cause of your consistent stress is, your reaction to it is the same.

To recap that: your heart is pumping harder, your blood pressure is increasing, your blood sugar is up, and the organs that you use to break down food into energy are in hyper-drive…all the time.

Guess what, your body isn’t made for that. Your muscles, especially if you sit at a computer all day, don’t need all the nutrients their receiving so that neck and shoulder tension (most common) that you’re having is to be expected because that’s what’s being fed.

Your blood vessels, under so much pressure tend to stretch and become inflamed—well your body uses cholesterol to soothe those places.

Your bloodstream is flooded with blood sugar too because the stress says that you need energy to overcome the hurdle, so if you’re not active enough to burn that off, you’re looking at increased blood glucose (that’s a step towards diabetes).

Your body is a finite system—can you tell me what you were thinking the last time you climaxed or when your dog ran into the road? Probably not. We don’t think very well on the stress hormones because it’s made for fight or flight… not “stop and think.” We don’t make great decisions when we’re high on cortisol, and the connection between high-powered jobs, decision making, and stress, are all wrapped in a correlating bundle.

Oh—and by the way ladies, the precursor for your body to make to cortisol is also the precursor to progesterone (also known as a p-steal), so your long-term stress could also be causing hormonal issues like a decrease in progesterone (which has similar symptoms as high estrogen in your system)—while this may be nature’s evolutionary way of decreasing fertility in stressful periods of time for our species, it can wreak havoc with your cycle in our modern world.

What to Do if You Think You Might Have it Bad

First step: calm down—sorry, that’s a stress joke, and not a very funny one.

For stressors caused by overwork or life, there are a few really wonderful techniques to use to find your calm balance. Working with products like in the Sanandi Relax Kit is a good way to find balance in the beginning.

My personal favorite is the breathing exercise that I wrote about at the end of the article: How Your Respiratory System Works. I also wrote about how to move into your parasympathetic nervous system in the article: How Your Nervous System Works.

Stress affects every part of your body because it takes over everything from the way your blood moves to the way you think and how your muscles react. It is cyclic and chronic stress in the body can lead to additional stress or health issues.

The best way to work through consistent, cyclic stressers is to throw a wrench in it. Sometimes that means taking time for yourself to think, a weekly exercise plan, or time laughing with friends—laughing is GREAT for stress—other times it means that you need to make a change like quitting your job or moving. You’re the only person in your body, and it’s the only body you have, so if you’re experiencing negative stress, it’s time to take matters into your own hands, and kick it to the curb.

Note: depression, anxiety, and other associated illness are not the subject of the article. Although they can be related and exaggerated by stress, these are diagnosably different and often need more of an intervention.

What’s your most effective way to deal with stress? Let us know in the comments below!

 

References:

https://www.livestrong.com/article/207432-adrenaline-cortisol/

Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

 

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