Your helpful guide to entering the New Year with less stress – thanks to an edited extract of Your Best Year Ahead by Dr Cris Beer.
Stress is toxic to our bodies. It poisons your body and mind to the point where you can be totally incapacitated. Worst of all, the effects of stress seem to creep up on you and leave you feeling worn out, depressed, anxious and overweight. In essence, stress can kill you softly.
It has been estimated that 60 to 80 per cent of all the reasons that people see a GP are related to stress. Such conditions include fatigue, headaches, inability to lose weight, mental-health issues, insomnia, digestive issues, muscle tension, difficulties conceiving, recurrent infections, and even high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer.
Not all stress is bad. Some stress is actually good for you and helps to keep life interesting. Good stress is also called ‘eu-stress’. We need just the right amount of stress to keep us motivated and challenged. Too little stress and we become apathetic and bored. Too much stress and our health suffers the consequences.
The worse types of stress are repeated stress and chronic stress. Repeated stress affects you on a frequent and recurrent basis. Common examples include traffic, paying bills, noise, crowds, sleep disturbance, isolation, loneliness, hunger, and danger.
Overcome this type of stress by practising stress-reduction techniques such as taking 10 deep breaths, meditation, mindfulness, and regular, relaxing exercise such as yoga and/or pilates. These types of activities activate our parasympathetic nervous system – which is literally our ‘de-stress’ nervous system.
Chronic stress literally drains your energy, speeds up ageing, lowers your mood and steals your health.
When compared with repeated stress, which affects us on a regular basis but does ease off at some point, chronic stress is stress that does not seem to go away. It is the type of stress that happens, when we are having relationship troubles, or not enjoying our job, or when we have a baby; when we are constantly worried about an issue in our lives, when we have suffered an injury or chronic illness, or even as a result of not sleeping well. The cause of chronic stress in our lives may be obvious or it may be subtle, but it has to be present consistently for at least three to four weeks to be classified as ‘chronic’.
When this occurs our stress hormones rise, in particular, adrenaline and cortisol. Other hormones start to drop such as our sex hormones progesterone and testosterone, our happy hormone serotonin, and our metabolism-boosting thyroid hormones. There are some predictable and potentially debilitating symptoms that occur when there is this chronic change to our hormone levels, as outlined in the table below.
How do you stop chronic stress from ruining your health?
The first thing to recognise is the major stress producers in your life. Make a list of these from ‘most stressful’ to ‘least stressful’. Work on the top two most stressful first. Aim to see if there is anything about those situations that you can change, even if it involves counselling to change your perspective about the situation.
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Realise too that you can actually be addicted to stress. Learn to recognise when your life has gone from one drama to the next. Is there something in your life and personality that is attracting this type of chronic stress? This may be part of a deeper psychological condition that has roots in your upbringing or past and may need to be further addressed in the form of counselling.
Other techniques for reducing chronic stress include getting a good night’s sleep, having regular ‘time-outs’ from your busy schedule, doing regular exercise, laughing daily, reducing caffeine and alcohol, forgiving others, developing positive relationships and meditating regularly.
When you have been stressed for a long period of time either constantly or repeatedly you can develop a condition known as adrenal fatigue.
Ever felt absolutely exhausted for days, weeks, months or even years on end despite getting enough sleep? You may be suffering from adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue occurs when we have been very stressed for a long period of time. When this happens, we deplete our hormone levels to such a point that we are in a state of burn-out. Our adrenal glands are responsible for making stress hormones like cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenalin. These hormones keep us motivated, maximising our energy levels and allowing us to stay alert and active. Constantly running on high stress levels depletes these hormones.
The symptoms of depleted stress hormones and adrenal fatigue are:
Feeling of weakness
Irritability, depression and/or anxiety
Joint and/or muscle pains
Inability to lose weight and/or weight gain
Return stress levels to normal
These symptoms can be subtle or can be severe and constant. So how do we reverse this process and return our stress hormone levels to normal?
Dr Cris Beer is a registered medical doctor who specialises not just in treatment of illnesses, but in the attaining of optimum health. You can order her book here.