Keep calm but don't carry on

I hope this will not be just yet another run of the mill article about stress.  I do not want to preach about how we must all do yoga, stretch, take some ‘me time’ and all the other, although useful, repetitive advice.  This month, I hope to open your eyes to just how damaging stress can actually be in the long term and some of the consequences we will have to face if we do not manage our stress levels properly.

What Is Stress?

‘Stress’ is a very expansive term and can refer to any real or perceived threat. Stress can be acute (severe or intense) or chronic (persisting for a long time or constantly recurring) and surprisingly to most people, it is chronic stress which causes us the most harm.

Stress serves a majorly important role in our survival. When we are under threat, we almost become super human as our vision and memory becomes better, our blood pressure rises allowing us to run faster or jump higher and we mobilise energy in muscle cells allowing us to become stronger.  This is why you read stories every now and then of a child who managed to lift a car off their parent or how someone seemingly jumped an incredible distance to save their own child.

However, for this to happen, our body has to turn off everything that is not essential to surviving, such as digestion, growth and reproduction.

Long Term Effects

Our digestion is one system that suffers with stress.  It is often reported that people will empty their bowels before imminent and extreme danger, such as moments before an execution.  This is a sign that the digestive system has shut down.  In a slightly less extreme example, if you get nervous before an event such as public speaking, your mouth will start to go dry.  This is also a sign that your digestive system is slowly shutting down.

Long term effects of our digestive systems progressively slowing or shutting down result in not only regular issues such as diarrhoea or constipation but to more extreme conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Crohn’s Disease.

“I’m pretty relaxed”

Not many of us will openly admit that we stress out, let alone that we are stressed on a regular basis.  It almost feels like we are a failure if we do, but not admitting it means that we will never tackle some majorly important issues.

Quite often when I talk about stress in my initial consultation with prospective clients, the first reactions are “I think I’m pretty relaxed” but unfortunately, stress is not just about mind-set.  Among many other scenarios, poor quality sleep, eating foods which leave you bloated or with digestive distress and taking regular pharmaceutical medications all cause a stress to the body. This in turn means your body will both require and use up more nutrients to combat the stress it is currently under.  This is how so many people become depleted in certain nutrients such as zinc, magnesium and B vitamins.

Don’t Carry On

If you know you do not sleep well enough change your night-time routine. Turn off your TV and tablet and read a book. If you know certain foods leave you with any form of discomfort then stop eating them for 3 months.  Do not keep living the same way if you know you are suffering from some level of stress.  Change things to make your life less stressful; your entire body will thank you for it in the future.