Did you know that 75 to 90 percent of all doctor’s office visits are for complaints and ailments that are related to stress? Headaches, high blood pressure, skin problems, depression, anxiety, diabetes, heart disease, you name it: they all have stress as a contributing factor. Unfortunately for us, stress isn’t something we can vaccinate for, nor can we just give patients a pill for stress. According to Dr. Peter Schnall, lead editor of Unhealthy Work: Causes, Consequences, Cures, stress has become a $1 trillion health epidemic, beating out the cost of heart disease, smoking, diabetes, and cancer combined. Stress is also a factor in five of the six leading causes of death—accidents, cancer, heart disease, lower respiratory disease, and stroke.
I can’t help but see a pattern here:
We’re ill and stressed.
We spend tons of money trying to cure that illness, which causes us stress, which then causes us to get sick again. For some people, it’s never ending. So what’s the answer? Mindset.
We’ve been so concentrated on treating the symptoms of stress—high blood pressure, headaches, depression, anxiety—that we’ve ignored the root cause itself. Let’s take a look at what stress does to the body, in the hopes that you’ll be able to see some patterns in your health.
Most of us are well-acquainted with stress. As women, we tend to take more upon ourselves than we need to, and for some of us, it’s a constant. But if we can become familiar with the ways our body shifts when we’re stressed, maybe we can use that to our advantage to stop stress in its tracks with our mind.
When something triggers the stress response in the body—the “fight-or-flight” response—a few different things happen at once. First, the brain’s neurons send a signal to the adrenal glands to release the hormones epinephrine—a.k.a. adrenaline—and cortisol. These stress hormones then trigger the liver to produce more blood sugar so you have that energy that you would need to either fight or flee the situation. Other autonomic processes shift into “go” mode: you might find yourself breathing faster, your heart rate may increase and your blood pressure may rise.
Because your body is focused on the evolutionarily-based need to save your life—your brain and nervous system can’t tell the difference between a potentially deadly threat and an email subject line typed out in all caps—systems that aren’t necessary to your immediate survival enter into a dormant mode. Your reproductive system slows (no need to get pregnant when you’re running for your life!). Digesting the remnants of Taco Tuesday isn’t a priority when a lion is chasing you, so that slows down as well. Your muscles tense, ready for action.
Now imagine this state in the long term. Let’s say your job is continually stressful. Your commute is a highway of hassle. You’re continually experiencing jolts of adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are coursing through your body, telling it that it needs to be ready to defend your life—it sounds almost like an exaggeration, but the stress reaction is really your body’s primitive way of keeping you alive. But really all you’re trying to do is balance the company’s books and get home to your family for dinner. A big disconnect, right?
What kind of health issues do you think you might have if you live in this state for too long? My guess is that you might experience one or more of the following:
- Digestive issues: nausea, dry mouth, indigestion, heartburn
- Musculoskeletal issues: headaches and back pain
- Respiratory issues: upper respiratory infections thanks to lighter than normal breathing.
- Cardiovascular issues: high blood pressure, higher heart rates
- Reproductive issues: infertility, period fluctuations, painful periods, and an increased likelihood of bacterial vaginosis.
- Immune issues: trouble fighting off infections and the development of skin conditions like acne and eczema.28
Permission to Nurture Yourself: Granted!
Self-care isn’t for the likes of just Gwyneth Paltrow! I’m giving you permission right now to nurture yourself. Stress can create an imbalance in your hormones, not to mention any of the above conditions. Most women are horrible about taking care of themselves and if you’re reading this, I’d bet you could be better at a little self-nurturing. We take care of the kids, our partner, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers. We work, we drive the kids or ourselves everywhere, we cook, we clean. It’s no wonder we’re stressed out of our minds just when we need them the most. Work some yoga or meditation into your weekly schedule!
If you are someone who only has short timeframes of 5 or 10 minutes a few times throughout the day then download my guide that will help you alleviate and manage your stress in 30 minutes each day. Click here to get the free MindShift Medicine sample. Fill out the form and it’ll be delivered directly into your inbox. Maybe you’ll even want to print that sucker so you remember to stick to it every day.