Is Your Stress Making You Ill?

When I was 26 I was burnt out.

I was by no means burning the candle wildly at both ends but I was living like a normal 26 year old in London; working hard, seeing friends, having fun and working out. However, I reached a breaking point - I was crying at the smallest thing, my nerves were completely frayed, I wasn't sleeping well and I felt unhealthy and bloated despite all the exercise I was doing. So I was sent home from work where I just went home and cried. It was relentless misery so I decided to see someone about it. That person was an acupuncturist who told me I had severe adrenal fatigue, I believe she said that my adrenals were “on the floor”, yikes.

Your adrenals are these lovely little glands that live above your kidneys and produce many important hormones we can’t live without, one being cortisol, the hormone that we release to keep homeostasis in the body when we’re in a state of fight or flight. The fight or flight stress response is really only supposed to be used in exactly that situation: fleeing from a perceived threat or fighting in. Nowadays, however, we permanently live in that same fight or flight response meaning that our adrenal glands are working overtime to keep us going. No wonder they get burnt out so quickly leaving us feeling so rubbish, it’s not the state we’re meant to be living in. 

So why does stress make us ill?

The study of mental stress on the body is called pyscho-neuro-immunology, a field of study that looks at the interactions between our nervous and immune systems. These studies show proven links between how our emotions compromise our immune function. Feeling good = healthy immune function. Feeling stressed = depleted immune function. In Systematic Kinesiology we take it one step further, we believe in pyscho-everything-immunology - that everything we think affects every part of the body, not just the immune system, but more on that another time.

(Image credit: Giulia Rosa)

Where does stress come from?

My stress was work-related but there’s many things that can stress us in our day to day lives; the demands of our jobs and social lives, being permanently in reach via phone and email, electronic stress from being surrounded by constant technology, environmental stress from our living environments and city lifestyle. There’s also physical stress of overexertion or being too cold or too warm, chemical stress from eating foods that negatively affect our digestive systems, stress from dehydration (yes that’s a big thing!) and stress from the people we’re dealing with on a day to day basis.

Lastly, there’s the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect which is perhaps the greatest silent killer of them all. Careers, partners, bodies - we want them all to be perfect and in an age of comparison and where we can supposedly ‘do and have anything’, what’s the excuse when you don’t have it all?

Are you stressed?

See how many questions you answer yes to. Stress can manifest itself anywhere in the body but at the same time, so can a lot of problems. Either way, if you're experiencing lots of these symptoms it's a clear sign that something's not quite right.

  1. Do you find it hard to get to sleep?

  2. Do you wake up during the night or sleep fitfully?

  3. Do you have dreams about real life situations such as your work colleagues or family?

  4. Have you lost your appetite?

  5. Do you feel occasionally nauseous?

  6. Are you finding yourself eating irregularly, outside your normal times or eating different foods?

  7. Are you drinking more alcohol or caffeine than usual?

  8. Do you find yourself craving sweet or salty foods?

  9. Do you have neck or shoulder pain?

  10. Do you experience headaches or jaw pain?

  11. Is your heart beating faster than usual?

  12. Does your skin feel sensitive or do you have a rash?

  13. Are you fighting off frequent infections?

  14. Are you feeling bloated or are your bowel movements very irregular?

  15. Are you tearful?

  16. Are you irritable or restless?

  17. Have you lost interest in certain aspects of your life?

  18. Do you feel on edge, anxious or in a worried state of mind?

  19. Are you shallow breathing?

  20. Do you get tired or ill as soon as you stop e.g. on a weekend or on holiday?

Take back your power

The detrimental effects of stress are huge, much more than we realise. From my own research I believe stress is just a precursor to most illnesses, from depression to chronic disease.

We hear the word ‘stress’ bandied around constantly in the media with lots of information out there to beat it. My advice is simple, depending on what kind of stress you have (emotional, chemical or physical - read my article here to get up to date) there are certain things you can do:

1) Change your diet

Processed food, refined carbohydrates and sugar stress our digestive systems so dial it back to eating simple and nourishing foods such as stews, soups and broths - warming, full of vegetables and easy on the digestive system. 

2) Rehydrate

Take out alcohol and caffeine and rehydrate, get 2.5 litres of water into your body on a daily basis.

3) Identify the root cause of your stress

Then realise that you have three options: accept the situation, change the situation or leave the situation. Stress can come when we think we don’t have a choice, but we always have a choice.

4) Stop

Literally, slow down, say ‘no’, cancel plans, take time out, be gentle with yourself, give yourself a break and breathe. Put yourself and your health first, everything else can wait.

5) Leave the comparisons

Everyone is on a different timeline, we're not in a race, there's no finish line. Take the pressure off needing to have everything figured out, no one does, we're all just doing our best, it's all you can do.

6) Talk

Talk to friends, family, colleagues, a therapist - you’re not alone so don’t suffer in silence. Unburdening your fears, worries and stresses lifts off layers of stress.

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