What Is Stress?

Stress can be defined as any physical, chemical or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in the cause of disease.

Everyone experiences a certain degree of stress in their lives. In today’s busy world it’s inevitable. Busy work schedules, family life, economic problems and illness all contribute to our daily stress levels. How we handle that stress, however, is different from individual to individual. Some people thrive on it, while others become ill.

So…is all stress bad?

No, not necessarily. A certain amount of stress in our lives can be beneficial.

For example, having a mild degree of stress when needing to meet a deadline or complete a project can be a motivating factor to finish the task at hand. Stress can give us that extra burst of energy to make it to the plane before our flight takes off, as well as regulate the body’s flight-or-fight response when faced with imminent danger.

Small doses of stress can make life enjoyable and exciting. Long-term, chronic stress, however, is another story…

Chronic, long-term stress can be detrimental to our physical and mental health.

Our body reacts to stress by instantly releasing a cascade of neurochemicals and hormones, two of which are cortisol and adrenaline. DHEA counter-balances cortisol levels. In short bursts, cortisol and adrenaline are essential for a quick response to danger. Chronic, prolonged stress; however, causes a continuous release of these chemicals which can be detrimental to our overall health if left untreated. The adrenal glands become overwhelmed creating an imbalance in cortisol and DHEA levels.

The lists of illnesses in which stress may be a contributing factor are alarmingly long:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Immune disorders
  • Diabetes
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Obesity
  • Depression
  • Cancer
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Kidney failure
  • Alcohol and drug addictions
  • Skin disorders
  • Memory loss

The list goes on and on….

Keeping Stress at a Manageable Level

There are a number of things we can do to keep stress at a manageable level. Here are some helpful suggestions to implement into daily life:

  • Identify stress triggers
  • Set appropriate priorities
  • Keep things simple
  • Strive for balance in your life
  • Don’t expect perfection from yourself or others
  • Avoid isolation
  • Laugh
  • Don’t procrastinate
  • Learn to say no
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get adequate rest and relaxation
  • Make time for yourself
  • Keep a gratitude journal

But what if you are already trying to implement some of these strategies and stress is unrelenting?

Sometimes, more is needed…..

There are other burdens that can be placed on our body’s stress-response system in addition to mental stress. Lifestyle factors, such as diets high in sugary, refined foods, excessive amounts of caffeine, alcohol, nutrient deficiencies, inflammation and lack of quality sleep can all play a part.

Most people think of stress as being just mental or emotional….

However, there are 4 key stressors that play a role in our cortisol levels being out of balance.

  1. Mental and emotional stress
  2. Blood sugar imbalance
  3. Insomnia
  4. Inflammation

In addition to an increased or decreased amount of cortisol, prolonged stress can also cause depletion in serotonin and GABA, neurotransmitters our brain releases to assist in our coping ability, as well as a depletion of vital vitamins and nutrients.

At Full Circle Health, we have an arsenal of tools available in helping our patients to manage stress. The key is to first identify what type of stress you are experiencing.