Stress is a normal physiological reaction to the threats we consider dangerous to our existence. Our ancestors did not experience the type of stress that we experience today. Modern life is very stressful. Stress can age you more rapidly and expose you to the more deadly diseases of aging such as cancers. Our bodies cannot deal with the amount of stress that modern life presents us. Over time, chronic stress will pose a serious threat to our bodies and overall health by severely damaging the immune system. Dealing with stress in the correct manner is an excellent way to fight anti-aging naturally.
The body response to stressful events in life is called the “fight or flight” response. The hypothalamus of the brain secretes adrenocorticotrophic releasing hormone (ARH). This then causes the adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline and cortisol. The adrenal glands play a very important role in the body, secreting over 50 hormones that are vital for life, including energy production, protein, carbohydrate and fat conversion to blood glucose for energy, fluid and electrolyte balance and fat storage. Some of the more commonly known hormones manufactured by the adrenals include epinephrine (adrenaline), cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), testosterone and progesterone.
Adrenaline and cortisol work together providing more oxygen and glucose, diverting the blood from lesser to more vital organs, increasing the heart rate, increasing blood pressure and respiratory rate, breaking down glycogen stores in the liver and muscles forming more glucose. This is the body’s response to stress.
Cortisol is a very important hormone that keeps our body in balance. It governs the strength of the immune system. Too much of it will weaken the immune system, increasing one’s susceptibility to cancer and infections. Not enough cortisol will cause an overactive immune system and autoimmune disease. Cortisol also stabilizes blood sugar and regulates blood pressure. Once the stressor has dissipated, the hormonal levels drop and the body returns to a normal state. However, over time, if this happens again and again and all the hormonal levels are constantly in the “fight or flight” state, the body is not allowed to return to normal. The hormonal and energy stores become exhausted. The vital link between the mind and the body is lost and the person suffers. When these symptoms persist, you are at risk for serious health problems, because stress can exhaust your immune system. When the adrenal glands break down, this is known as a nervous breakdown. A nervous breakdown is not actually where the nerves breakdown. It is a state know as “adrenal fatigue” when the adrenal glands can no longer handle more stress adequately.
These are some of the ways you can manage the stress in your life:
o Get enough sleep. Adequate sleep refuels your mind and body. Not enough sleep increases stress, which can cause you to think irrationally
o Develop a support system and connect with others
o Exercise regularly : At least 30 minutes, three times per week for physical activity. Exercise increases the levels of endorphins (the feel-good hormones) in your body. Physical exercise is the key to reducing and preventing the effects of stress
o Eat a balanced, nutritious diet
o See a naturopath or nutritionist to find out what supplements you should be taking
o Talk to your doctor
o Use aromatherapy
o Practice Yoga
o Practice Meditation
o Express your feelings instead of bottling them up
o Reduce caffeine and sugar: sugar and caffeine increase your blood sugar, causing you to “crash” later in the day
o Don’t self-medicate with alcohol or drugs
o Do something for yourself everyday. Do things that make you happy
o Have realistic expectations
o Reframe problems
o Maintain your sense of humor
o Don’t try to control events or other people
o Ask yourself “Is this my problem?”
o Practice deep breathing (abdominal breathing)
o Practice progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)
o Practice Tai Chi
o Use massage for stress relief
o Take a mental vacation: close your eyes and imagine a place where you feel relaxed and comfortable. Notice the details, the sounds, the smells, and the temperature of this place. Read a good book, listen to relaxing music.
o Take a warm bath or shower
o Care for a pet.