Everyone has experienced stress in their lives. Whether it be over an upcoming exam, work expectations or just normal day-to-day activities that spike your cortisol levels, living with stress is something all of us must do from time to time.
But how much stress is too much?
We are hearing more and more that high stress levels can have irreversible and often detrimental effects on our health, both mental and physical. So how can we combat high stress levels in our lives and what can chronic cases of stress do to our bodies? First, it’s important to know why we produce cortisol in our bodies and why extended exposure to stress can affect such powerful changes on the health of our bodies and minds, before we can even begin to try and manage stress levels in our daily lives.
What is Cortisol?
According to the Society of Endocrinology, cortisol is a steroid hormone made in the adrenal gland. Not only does the adrenal gland produce cortisol, but adrenaline too, where both are released in times of great fear or threat.
Almost every cell within the human body contains receptors for cortisol and can have many varied actions depending on which sorts of cells it is acting upon. These effects include controlling the body’s blood sugar levels, which then regulates metabolism, acts as an anti-inflammatory, influences memory formation, controls the balance of salt and water in the body, influences blood pressure, and helps development of the foetus.
In many animal species, cortisol is also responsible for triggering the processes involved in giving birth. It is one of the primal hormones and during the time of our very early ancestors, it was integral to our species’ survival in times of threat or danger. The stress response directs certain glands to release a flood of hormones, adrenaline and cortisol that increase alertness, heart rate, blood flow to muscle, and more, in order for the body to be in prime condition for immediate responses to danger.
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How Does this Translate to our Modern Day Lifestyles?
For the majority of us who live with all the luxuries of modern technologies, living with stress has meant having to adapt to what was once deemed as a threat to our safety, comfort or life, only in modern scenarios. Our bodies slowly adapted to modern influences of stress, so instead of dealing with the onslaught of a saber-tooth tiger, we now see that imminent deadline at work or the bills that continue to invade and attack our bank accounts as threats; spiking cortisol in our blood stream. Though, it is important to remember that stress is an integral and natural part of human development and survival.
What Long-term Effects can Living with Stress Have on the Body?
Stress can have some pretty devastating effects if long-term stress turns chronic, if the stress you experience is constant or if the stress continues after the danger has subsided. Stress can affect different people in numerous ways. With chronic-stress, these life-saving responses in your body can have an incredibly negative impact, ranging from suppression of the immune system, digestive problems, issues with sleep, and even reproductive issues like irregular or stopped periods and infertility. Not only that, but many experience symptoms such as hair loss, weight loss or gain, muscle tension, migraine, and loss of ability to concentrate or focus.
Stress damages future generation
In recent studies, it was suggested that chronic stress damage starts even before conception and cuts into our very cells. A number of studies have shown that there is a link between stress and shorter telomeres, which is a chromosome component that has been associated with cellular ageing and risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. If this information wasn’t stressful enough, it also implies that high levels of cortisol can damage the children we haven’t even conceived yet. Now, that seems to be the most terrifying part of the stress cycle if there ever was one.
So what can we do to scale stress levels back?
The effects of stress seem to build up over time. So, taking practical steps to manage your stress can reduce or prevent the effects of stress on the body.
Here is a list of things you can do to help when living with stress:
1. Acknowledge the signs
Take note of your body's response to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, being easily angered, feeling depressed, and having low energy or unable to focus.
2. Get Regular Exercise
Just a 30 minutes walk per day can help boost your mood and reduce stress.
3. Try a Relaxing Activity
Meditation, yoga, tai chi, or other gentle exercises allow you to focus on breathing and mindful movement, which can help some people find calm in stressful times. For some stress-related conditions, these approaches are used in addition to other forms of treatment.
4. Set Goals and Priorities
Decide what must get done and what can wait, and learn to say no to new tasks if they are putting you into overload. Note what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you haven’t been able to do.
For some people, the points listed above just aren’t enough to mediate high levels of stress. That’s when stress supplements can really help your body to relax, allowing you to work through stress in a far less tense mindset. Stress supplements include:
Melatonin: This particular stress supplement is fantastic for those suffering from sleep problems as it is the hormone produced in the body to regulate sleep. It has also been shown to help with anxiety in older patients, improve behavioural disorders and even symptoms of depression.
Magnesium: This supplement is perfect for those suffering from stress-related symptoms like muscle tension and migraines. It is an essential mineral for nerve and muscle function and acts as a relaxant. It has also been shown to play a major role in hormonal axis and regulation of the stress response.
Vitamin B complex: This vitamin is a fantastic stress supplement as it can help the body manufacture neurotransmitter, such as serotonin, which aids in the body’s ability to cope with depression, stress and anxiety.
CBD: CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is an incredible compound found within the cannabis plant. It has been found to have incredible therapeutic qualities for numerous ailments, but especially for stress- and anxiety-related disorders. This can be much harder to find due to unfair laws surrounding the sale and distribution of cannabis and cannabis derived products, but can easily be found online or in retail shops in parts of the world where it is legal.