Stress effects everyone and always has. Though the stressors we face today are much different to the stressors that our hunter-gather ancestors dealt with.
You may be familiar with the body’s fight or flight response? When we face an event, our body gears up and goes through its own checklist of what to do in order for us to be here to face another day. There are many people that would say they are not stressed, just busy and lots going on. Maybe they just have trouble switching their brain off before they can drift off to sleep, or they wake early in the morning with their brain springing to action straightaway with what they need to do, or the conversations that need to be had.
The way stress reacts in our body is a funny thing (obviously not, ha, ha, funny) as it does not recognise the type of stress it’s encountering. If you spend an hour stuck in a traffic jam, spill a hot coffee all down your clothes first thing when you get to work, or you have a loved one pass away. Stressors big or small set off the same cascade of chemical responses in our body.
This was once not such a big issue when we had shorter work days, there was no traffic, we had no TV, computers, tablets or screens to look at and there was no such thing as retail shops open on a Sunday. Our minds were not constantly being stimulated by technology, artificial lights and a constant busy-ness. Time was set aside on weekends where family’s relaxed and spent time together. We had down time.
Our body is able to manage a stressful event really well, though it uses the same organs, cells, metabolites and signals as our non-stress activities. Things like sleep, digestion, reproduction and immunity step aside and let the emergency response occur. This is okay when the emergency response occurs and then the body gets on with its day-to-day functions. Though imagine a constant onslaught of stress causing long term disruption to our natural settings that control our sleep, metabolism and self-repair.
Part of how we manage stress is by producing the hormone cortisol. Amongst many other roles, cortisol contributes to the regulation of inflammation. Prolonged stress equals prolonged production of cortisol which reduces the effectiveness of regulating inflammation. Our tissues become less sensitive to it. Studies have shown when people are exposed to psychological stress they are more likely to develop a common cold or virus. This occurs as the body’s inflammatory response is over-reactive in its effort to fight infection.
Imagine this inflammatory response occurring in other areas of the body. Stress is known to influence many diseases and it just might happen in those illnesses where inflammation is the starting point. Unfortunately, we cannot often remove our stressors. We can’t just up and leave our jobs, though many would like to. We can’t just abandon our loved ones when things are not going right. Sometimes we are going to spill the carton of milk on the floor, and that is just life. This is why stress management techniques are essential to our health and wellbeing. Otherwise we could be travelling towards a destination of illness or gathering those old aches and pains sooner and sooner.
By Tanya Jones