As the pace of modern life quickens, stress has become ever more abundant in our lives and is wreaking havoc on our health. We are quite literally facing an epidemic of stress and stress related diseases. Diseases our grandparents have never heard of are becoming common place. Cancer, Diabetes, Coronary Heart Disease, Alzheimer's and Autoimmune disease are all becoming household names. One in two of us are now diagnosed with a chronic illness at some point in our life time. This means chances are you either have or know someone with one of these illnesses. These are modern illnesses. These are illnesses that are intrinsically related to the modern life style, these are diseases we can help prevent.For the first time last year Alzheimer's over took heart disease as the leading cause of death in the UK killing over 61,000 people.Psychiatrist Dr Linda Mah of the University of Toronto, said:
“Pathological anxiety and chronic stress are associated with structural degeneration and impaired functioning of the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which may account for the increased risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression and dementia.
”So, stress has much more severe consequences than a couple of extra pounds in the final quarter. The leading causes of death in theUK are all potentially stress related. It's time we started taking it a little more seriously.WHEN WE GET STRESSED:
The body responds by initiating the "fight or flight" response. Essentially it's our body reacting to a perceived threat, something it believes is putting us in real danger a potentially life threatening situation.
Our heart rate and blood pressure increase. We start sweating so our body can keep us cool.Oxygen, fats and carbohydrates are pumped to the muscles ready to be used for energy.Our blood vessels open up. Inflammatory chemicals are released to prepare the body for tissue repair.The blood gets thick and sticky so it can clot faster.
The attention centres of the brain light up like a Christmas tree to improve our focus.
A cocktail of hormones is released such as adrenaline, cortisol, norepinephrine and oxytocin.
Stress is a major physiological, immunological and metabolic change. It's designed to help us adapt to a present moment threat. It's designed to save our life. It's to get us the hell out of dodge! Get us out of the trench or away from the woolly mammoth. It's our bodies protection mechanism for life or death situations. Yet now we've been using it for just about everything else... emails, traffic jams, missing our favourite TV show... well done humans! Unlike other animals, humans don't have an off switch for the stress response. Instead of using it to save our lives, we're letting it take our lives from us. Our bodies are just not designed to stay in this state 24/7, we have to find a way to manage this life saving response and use it effectively.There are three proven ways to reduce the impact of stress that you can start to implement straight away:
1. Exercise. Well, I know you'll be doing this one anyway but it's very important to realise just how powerful exercise is. Especially anaerobic exercise such as interval and resistance training which releases a myriad of anabolic hormones that counteract the catabolic hormones of stress.
2. See stress as your friend and not your enemy! Recent research has shown that it's incredibly important how you view your own stress. By looking at stress in a positive way and seeing it as your bodies way of helping you rise to a challenge we can actually change the impact it has on the body. I've listed the TED talk below if you want to learn more about this fascinating subject. https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend/transcript?language=en
3. Meditation. Meditating and exercising are currently the only scientific ways to instigate the "relaxation response" which is the complete opposite to the "stress response". Research as shown that simply by sitting still for ten minutes each day we receive a whole host of benefits including improving immune and cardiovascular health, increasing our ability to concentrate and even slowing down the ageing process! A fantastic way to get started is the free app "Headspace". Their introductory program "Take ten" is how I got started with meditating daily! https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app
4. Get outside! Mum always said you needed to spend more time outside and she was right. Being outside has a host of benefits for us humans from increased metabolism, increased levels of happiness, reduced inflammation and reduced stress levels as well. In fact research Research conducted at the University of Essex showed that the colour green, such as that found on trees, grass and other plants in nature, makes exercise feel easier. The small study tested cyclists peddling in front of green, grey and red images. Those exercising in front of the green showed less mood disturbances and reported that they felt lower exertion during their cycling.