Stress is pretty much synonymous with the modern lifestyle….
A little stress kickstarts performance, the troubles begin when the stress turns into “dis” stress.
When the word “stress” is mentioned, most of us think about negative emotional situations :
- the unbearable pressure of having too much to do and too little time to do it,
- the tossing and turning that invades the night, as concerns over
- how to pay the bills,
- how to manage the boss, the husband, the kids, the neighbour, the dog ……………….
- will you be able to answer all the questions in the exam, did you study the right things, will you have enough time to finish the paper,
- the results of a medical test, a pregnancy test, an IQ test, an exam
This “stress” dials up the stress hormones to “toxic” levels – the heavy hitters here are cortisol and adrenaline. But stress is not restricted to what we imagine, it can be very real – real stress (physical stress), also dials up the stress hormones to crushing levels.
The types of physical stress that we encounter include some kind of physical assault on our bodies such as
- being bashed,
- catching a bug or being stung by a bee
- being exposed to a bad environment outside (environmental stress)
- being exposed to a bad environment inside (oxidative stress)
The stress hormones
Cortisol and adrenaline are released as a protective mechanism to help us to cope with the “negative” situation. As far as your body is concerned, the way to overcome “bad things”, is to either stick around and confront the problem, outlast the problem or run like hell.
To do any of these actions, you need a mega dose of “energy”, so your body uses these chemicals, to give you that extra oomph to deal with the situation.
Adrenaline is designed to be used in short term emergency situations, while cortisol is for more long term problems, which require major adjustments to body metabolism.
Both chemicals get the heart pumping harder to get more oxygen to the tissues and bump up the sugar levels, so you have lots of energy – giving you the ability to “survive” the stress.
Once the threat is over, the panic subsides and things return to normal – well this is the theory.
But if you life is one continuous “negative” experience – you are always fired up, so blood pressure is high and sugar levels are high, a situation which contributes to blood vessel damage and ultimately cardiovascular disease.
So how do you dial down cortisol ?
Cortisol is a master switch
Cortisol is a very powerful genetic regulator – it “switches” on genes that control how you use fuel and also turns down the immune system and alters your emotional drivers.
Disruptions in fuel processing, lead to metabolic syndrome and all the accompanying diseases while disruptions in the immune system put you at risk of infections and cancer and often result in the blues.
So dialling down cortisol so that you’re not living in the twighlight zone of a horror movie is vital for health.
Physical stresses originating outside of your body need to be avoided or managed as far as possible by actively watching your surroundings.
Management of emotional stresses begins with controlling your thinking and taking the time to unwind.
The final stress that needs to dialled down, is the stress originating inside your body – oxidative stress, cortisol contributes by altering fuel processing, but the fuel supply is also significant contributor.
Oxidative stress and the fuel supply
Cells use oxygen to burn sugar, the process takes place in specialized organelles called mitochondria.
The trouble with using oxygen, is that the chemical reactions that occur, create by-products known as reactive oxygen species (ROS).
These are chemicals which “love” reacting, so as soon as they are formed, they immediately “react” with everything in their vicinity. Unfortunately, these reactions tend to leave everything they “react” with a little worse for wear.
The human body has several inherent defences against these toxic molecules, but these natural defences can easily be overwhelmed, particularly if you put in too much fuel.
This is what happens when you eat too much – this is what makes being fat a health hazard. Oxidative stress is implicated in most major lifestyle diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer as well as most neurological conditions including Parkinson’s Disease.
Dial down oxidative stress
To avoid the long term damaged caused by reactive oxygen species gone wild – dialling down oxidative stress is central to health.
Of course, it is once more all about balance. Those ROS chemicals are not all bad – we depend on them to protect us against “foreign” invaders and they play a beneficial role in several physiological processes including fertility. So you want to dial them down, not switch them off.
The extent you need to dial them down will depend on YOU !
How do you dial down oxidative stress
The best way to do it – cut back on the fuel supply i.e. eat to live don’t live to eat.
Omega-3s are one very powerful way to do this along with eating Mother Nature’s bounty – vegetables, nuts, herbs and fruits typically contain a generous supply of chemicals which neutralize excess oxidation products.
STRESS is a big spoon which few people don’t need to actively manage. It is probably also, one of the hardest spoons to take control of so it is an ongoing battle.