- Stress is the outcome of trigger thoughts or events that cause our brains to release destructive chemicals like cortisol into our bloodstreams. These chemicals collectively raise blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, along with suppressing digestive and immune systems and promoting fat storage.
- In today’s more civilized parts of the world, stress comes from mental triggers (relationships with people) more commonly than physical triggers (“fight or flight” survival needs).
- Understand that positive stress (getting a promotion, getting married) and negative stress (getting fired, divorce) have similar negative reactions in our bodies.
Stress! That one simple word conjures up an incredible emotional reaction in people. An incredible negative emotion, that is. No one craves stress. Stress is something we try to avoid at all cost. But what is “stress?”
Stress is best understood as a physiological and biochemical outcome to any one of a number of trigger thoughts or events. When the end product outcome occurs physiologically and biochemically, stress has been present. When the end product outcome has not occurred, no stress has been present. It’s actually quite simple.
Here is what happens, very generally, during stress. There is a region inside your brain called the Limbic System. The Limbic System handles many things, most notably emotion. During a stressful episode, an organ within the Limbic System called the Amygdala secretes the hormone ACTH which activates the adrenals to dump adrenalin, noradrenalin and a variety of very destructive chemicals, such as cortisol, into your bloodstream. Cortisol, in turn, activates the amygdala to create a larger ACTH response, which creates more cortisol and a highly negative feedback loop is suddenly in action. These chemicals, as a group, raise blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol as well as suppress important bodily systems such as the digestive and immune systems. They can also promote body fat storage and lower the sustained energy response needed for effective exercise.
Here is where it gets interesting. These “internal” reactions are a result of the evolutionary process that helped protect man during dangerous, survival episodes. Today we refer to this as the “fight or flight” response. When encountering a dangerous, life threatening event all these reactions would occur in the body helping heighten a survival response (i.e. “fight”) or speed escape (i.e. “flight”).
But in today’s world a lot of stress occurs due to mental versus physical triggers. While stress can occur from a physical threat to life, far, far more stress occurs normally due to family, friend, jobs and relationship events or even more simply just due to worrisome thoughts. During physical triggers, your body gets to “use” the hormones and chemicals to its benefit but during mental triggers when the hormones and chemistry is not used for a useful purpose they create tension in the walls of the arteries and begin a number of serious disease processes. Perhaps worse, they accelerate aging.
So there you have it. Stress is a physiological and biochemical response that originally supported survival and now still does, to an extent, during physical trigger episodes. During mental trigger episodes, however, stress can cause an incredible variety of negative health processes to occur.
While few people think this way, it is CRITICAL to understand that while stress itself is largely negative, the stressful trigger events can be positive or negative. In other words, similar biochemical outcomes occur when getting divorced, losing a job or going bankrupt and even happen when getting married, receiving a promotion or winning the lottery.
Knowing this, it becomes especially important to learn how to manage stress positively. This can either be fairly easy or very difficult, depending on your personality. If you have a super reactive personality then it will be difficult, yet extraordinarily important for you to learn how to manage stress. If you have a non-reactive personality, it will still be important but stress probably isn’t killing you – quite literally. The more reactive your personality, the more likely you are to have serious physical problems due to stress including overweight, accelerated aging and a variety of disease conditions including a number of very life threatening ones such as heart attack or stroke.
Tomorrow we will learn about a simple, at home physical test to measure the degree to which stress is negatively effecting your body.
GABA. Gamma Amino Butyric Acid is a natural amino acid based compound that acts as an important neurotransmitter in the brain. Taken before bed GABA helps promote deep, relaxing sleep and taken during the day acts as an effective calming agent.
Whatever you decide to do to help manage stress, you need to realize that having a positive outlook or mind set is very important. There is a huge body of research demonstrating that people with happy, positive attitudes get ill less often, recover faster, age more slowly and live longer than do people with negative mental attitudes.
As important as choosing the right stress management technique is, it is equally important not take short cuts and choose stress management routes which add to the destructive component of stress. Here are some of the improper stress management techniques that you should avoid.
Pharmaceutical Drugs. There are millions of people taking drugs such as the Benzodiazepines. While these may be helpful in the very short term for managing seriously acute stress episodes, using them for extended periods to alleviate anxiety is a prescription for biochemical disaster. The one possible exception to this (that appears a bit less negative), today, is the drug Buspar. But pharmaceutical drugs come with a host of negatives and should not be the first line of defense against stress. When evaluating drug options, you might also want to consider the natural alternative GABA which when taken during the day in 500 mg. to 1 gram doses can act as a mild sedative.
Recreational Drugs. Even worse, many people try recreational drugs such as cocaine to limit their stress. While cocaine might make you feel a bit less stressed temporarily since it affects dopamine levels, over time, you need more and more of the drug to get the same reaction. And along with drug use, comes a variety of very negative physiological and psychological effects.
Alcohol. Alcohol is widely used as a stress deterrent. A small amount of alcohol may actually be beneficial to a person’s health but few people can consume alcohol in small amounts. Alcohol use leads to alcohol abuse and an incredible number of physical and mental problems.
Nicotine. Many people enjoy smoking, believing that nicotine helps them to sharpen a bit mentally and help create a calm, relaxed feeling and attitude. Since cigarette smoke contains nearly an uncountable number of harmful chemicals and is directly responsible for 450,000 deaths a year, obviously, the harm here greatly outweighs the benefits.
Avoid all these negative stress coping mechanisms. They can only lead to harm.