This article about the ravages of stress is from a few years ago on my old fellrath.com blog. A friend of mine pointed out that this advice is pretty evergreen, so I wanted to present it here as well. Hope you enjoy.
I always like it when different parts of my life come together in a common theme or idea. This happens to me a lot, actually – particularly after reading Mark Sisson’s The Primal Connection: Follow Your Genetic Blueprint to Health and Happiness, and comparing it to what I’ve learned via MorningCoach.com. The ways that J.B. Glossinger and many other success coaches and personal evolution gurus teach us totally jibe with the ancestral instincts that we’ve evolved with as per Sisson and others. It’s really amazing.
Case in point: a while back, J.B. told us the story of a lecturer who came into her lecture holding a glass of water. Expecting this to lead into a glass-half-empty-or-half-full story, the audience was surprised to hear her discuss just how that glass is like stress.
Holding that glass out for a minute would be no big deal. It really doesn’t weigh that much, and no one would have trouble with that task. Holding it for an hour? That’d be significantly tougher to do. Holding it for a whole day? That’d be nearly crippling!
In the same way, our bodies are designed to deal with quick bouts of stress via the fight-or-flight response. We quickly generate adrenaline for a quick escape or fight, our senses increase, our muscles tense, and other parts of the body temporarily shut down to help us get out of those stressful situations. And that’s a perfectly healthy thing, something our bodies expect to do.
In fact, it’s how our bodies improve. As we learn more about stress in our lives, we are learning about why things like cold water treatments, exercise, and other positive stressors really make us stronger and healthier. But the negative side of stress comes when we are forced to hold on to it over a long period of time.
Constantly being in that state of fight-or-flight leads things like adrenal fatigue, hormone disregulation, immune function disorders, and more. Paleo movement leader Robb Wolf has mentioned a couple times that his issues with gluten didn’t really crop up until he was stressing his system with graduate school, a grueling schedule, and going on a vegetarian diet. Stress can cause immune problems, there’s little doubt. I also remember his talking to a doctor who worked with Navy SEALs. That doctor was expecting, as he started his practice, to work mostly with food and exercise issues, but what ended up happening was that he became one of the better experts on the effects of dealing with constant stress.
Stress really affects our bodies in amazing ways – and there are always signs that it’s there. For example, I bruised my ribs during the Mud Ninja race back in 2013 (though I’m proud to say I did finish and had a great time doing it!) and wasn’t able to work out much for quite a while after that. And it was very uncomfortable to sleep on, breathe with, etc. So lack of sleep, pain, and inability to work out added to the stress of every day life and work and the like, and it showed up in the form of headaches and pain in the back of my neck.
And though I will get a second opinion, I took the opportunity to have a chiropractic screening the other day at a road race that my kids took part in. The inflammation in my neck was in the red (literally – they somehow read the stress/spinal state or whatever it’s called in chiropractic circles and apply green, yellow, and red to it).
The negative stress in our lives has a physical manifestation, there’s no doubt. And those physical manifestations, which come from what’s essentially a mental stimulus via outside stressors, create more mental issues! It’s a vicious cycle, unless we take steps on our own to take care of the problems we’re encountering.
For me, I have been trying to at least get out for walks for my workouts, such as they are, and to keep up with my personal evolution work. And I haven’t been perfect, but a little bit of improvement every day is all we need to turn that vicious cycle around. And that’s what I’m aiming for. Going from 51% bad to 51% good is all it takes.
So if stress is affecting you, do something about it today. Eat a better diet. Get some exercise. Meditate or do some yoga, or t’ai chi. Take on your problems head-on. There are so many ways to fix the problem, it’s just time to pick one (or more) and go with it! Do what it takes to put that glass down. Or what the heck, take a drink!