Stress Awareness Month has been held annually in April since 1992.
Stress is something that all of us experience in our lives. It’s a physical response which happens when we are feeling overwhelmed, and it can affect our body and mind. A little bit of stress in the short term can be beneficial – it might spur us on to reach an important deadline, or make an important decision. However, when we experience chronic stress, it changes our brain and can also cause damage to other organs and cells throughout our body.
Let’s take a look at how stress can impact both our body and brain, and ultimately really affect our Physical Wellness, which is a core element of our 8Wise™️ approach.
Our Adrenal Gland releases stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol. These travel through our blood stream where they can easily reach our blood vessels and heart. Have you noticed that when you’re stressed your heart beats faster? Adrenaline causes this. It also raises your blood pressure. Cortisol on the other hand, can cause the inner lining of our blood vessels to not function normally. This can actually lead to a buildup of cholesterol plaque in our arteries which increases the chance of heart attack and stroke.
Stress can also affect our stomach and digestive system. When our brain feels stressed, it sends signals to our intestinal nervous system. It can make us feel ‘butterflies’ in our stomach. It can also disturb our natural rhythmic contractions that move food through our gut which can lead to IBS and increase our gut’s sensitivity to acid, making heartburn more likely. What’s more, stress can change the composition and function of gut bacteria which can affect our digestive system and overall health.
Have you experienced periods of chronic stress and noticed that you’ve put on some weight? That’s because the stress hormone cortisol increases our appetite and causes us to crave high carb and comfort foods. High levels of the hormone in our system can also cause us to put on extra calories as ‘deep belly fat’. This type of fat doesn’t just affect weight – it’s an organ that releases hormones and immune system chemicals that can increase the risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease.
Stress hormones also affect our immune cells, and chronic stress can damage their functions, making us more at risk of infections. It can also lead to acne, hair loss, sexual dysfunction, headaches, muscles tensions, difficulty concentrating, fatigue and irritability.
So what are some examples of chronic stress? Well, maybe you’re overworking or are dealing with a difficult relationship at home. Did you know that chronic stress can actually affect our brain size, structure, and functionality? It increases the activity level and the number of neural connections in our Amygdala, our brain’s ‘fear centre’. As levels of cortisol rise, electrical signals in our Hippocampus, which is the part of the brain associated with learning, memories and stress control), deteriorate. It can actually cause our brain to physically shrink! Our decision making, judgement, concentration and social interaction are all affected. It also increases our risk of other mental health issues such as depression, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
As you can tell, stress has the capacity to really damage our Physical Wellness. It’s not all bad news though, because in fact, our Physical Wellness can help us manage stress effectively so that it doesn’t turn into chronic stress, and wreak havoc on our body and brain.
Physical Wellness makes up 50% of our Foundation Dimension (the other half being Emotional Wellness). When we have a good foundation, we can handle whatever stresses life throws at us. In order to experience Physical Wellness we need to make sure we’re looking after the five pillars of health:
- Health checks
These good physical health habits can decrease our stress levels, improve mental health, make us feel more energised and alive.
Are you taking enough time to relax? Are you eating enough vegetables? Drinking enough water? Getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night? Are you moving your body daily? Carrying out at-home health checks and going to GP screenings?
Physical Wellness is all about listening to and taking care of our body for optimal health and functioning. How we feel physically affects how we feel mentally, which impacts every single aspect of our life, including how we react to stress.
So whatever you do today, take a look at those five pillars of health and ask yourself – are you tending to each one of these? Or is there room for improvement?
For more information about Physical Wellness and how you can improve your other seven wellness elements, check out our book which is available HERE.