Two scary facts about stress to remember this year

I planned to write a different post today, but I've been stopped in my tracks by this quote:

"Stress is a thought, a perception of a threat, even if it is not real. That's it. No more, no less. If that's true, then we have complete control over stress, because it's not something that happens to us but something that happens in us." Dr Mark Hyman

And I can't get it out of my head. (I sound a bit like Kylie.) Oh, I know our thoughts create our reality and we all perceive the world through our own filters, but the idea that stress isn't OUT THERE threatening me over here, made me really stop and think. Could it all be ME and my reactions?

This, also from Dr Mark Hyman, is really bothering me too:

"If you really knew what was happening to you when you are stressed, you would freak out. It's not pretty." 

I have read a lot of Dr Hyman's work, and yesterday I gained a lot from this interview he did with one of Oprah's 'thought leaders' Marie Forleo:

It set me off on a reading frenzy of some of his recent stuff, especially his work on stress and its relationship to weight and health. The quote above came from a piece that went on to say:

"The medical definition of stress is, 'the perception of a real or imagined threat to your body or your ego'. It could be a tiger chasing you or your belief that your spouse is mad at you (even if he or she is not). Whether it is real or imagined, when you perceive something as stressful, it creates the same response in the body. A cascade of adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones floods your system, raising your heart rate, increasing your blood pressure, making your blood more likely to clot, damaging your brain’s memory center, increasing belly fat storage, and generally wreaking havoc on your body. The operative word here about stress is that it is a perception, also known as a thought or point of view. There are objective stressors, to be sure—war, death of loved ones, financial troubles, starvation, dental work. But how these affect us determines our body’s stress response." 

So as we plough headlong into a new and inevitably busy year, I want to remind myself (and you, if you'll let me) of two scary facts about stress and why we should avoid it at all costs:

Long-term (chronic) stress wrecks your body and your health. The American Institute of Stress says:

"... it's hard to think of any disease in which stress cannot play an aggravating role or any part of the body that is not affected ..."

They list depression, anxiety, heart attack, stroke, hypertension, immune system disturbances, common colds, herpes, AIDS, certain cancers, autoimmune issues, skin disorders, insomnia and degenerative neurological disorders like Parkinson's disease in a long list of emotional and physical disorders that have been linked to stress. And it's a list they say is growing. You can read the Institute's list of 50 common signs and symptoms of stress here too.

If you want more proof, watch the mind-blowing documentary by Australian journalist, Shannon Harvey, called The Connection.

On the same topic, Dr Hyman says: "When you’re stressed, your adrenal glands release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that flood your system, raising your heart rate, increasing your blood pressure, making your blood more likely to clot, damaging your brain’s memory center, increasing belly fat storage and generally wreaking havoc on your body." 

Long-term stress may be affecting your health without your knowledge. Some of the most devastating effects of stress occur within the body's organs and systems. Long-term stress is called 'the silent killer' for a reason. You can see a great diagram spelling out the dangers to your internal systems here or read more here.

So what do we do about it? I think most of us know what to do, but have a hard time following through (which is another area I'm particularly interested in: creating sustainable behavioural change). Dr Hyman says, managing stress starts with diet:

"The right diet can do wonders to reduce stress’ impact on your life. When you eat whole, real foods, you restore balance to insulin, cortisol, and other hormones. When you clean up your diet from mind-robbing molecules like caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugars and eat regularly to avoid the short-term stress of starvation on your body, you maintain an even-keeled mindset throughout the day even when things get hectic. You’ll replace those foods with clean protein, healthy fats, leafy and cruciferous vegetables, berries, and non-gluten grains. Food is information that controls your gene expression, hormones, and metabolism. When you eat the right foods, you balance blood sugar, restore hormonal balance, and reduce stress’ damaging impact."

And renowned women's health specialist, Christiane Northrup reminds us sleep is huge for combating stress and its effects on the body, especially blood pressure and weight gain. She says "sleep is, hands down, the body's most effective way of digesting excess stress hormones from your day". You can read some of her articles here and here. This was enough to send me to bed two hours earlier last night. I hope it has the same effect on you if you're still dragging your feet after the festive season.

I don't mean to be a downer just as a bright new year is dawning, but consistently dealing with stress in sustainable ways will be a big focus for me this year. I honestly don't feel like I've got any other choice.

How about you? Do you think you need to tackle your stress? Or sleep?




Natalie Bartley