Why do health experts keep insisting that we need to reduce our stress if we want to avoid the common diseases of our day: diabetes, cancer and heart disease?
One of the most important things to understand about your body is that every stress you experience causes a blood sugar and hormonal reaction. In other words, every stress you experience affects your entire system.
Stress is the result of positive feedback loops in your body’s chemistry. A positive feedback loop is a vicious circle that acts like fuel feeding a growing fire, making it burn hotter and faster. In this way, multiple stress reactions converge and magnify the body’s total stress response.
To demonstrate how positive feedback loops can become dangerous, imagine that you suddenly inhale a piece of food while eating and start choking. Your body will immediately react in several ways in this situation:
- You will try to cough forcefully to dislodge the food from your trachea.
- At the same time, your body is actively mobilizing its “fight or flight” system, the rush of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that signal a massive release of stored glucose (glycogen) from the liver and muscle tissues, which increase the heart and breath rates, and dilate vascular channels to speed oxygen, energy, and blood flow to the large muscles.
- This adrenaline response will make it more difficult to continue coughing forcefully, as the body is now poised to fight or run, not expel a stuck piece of food.
- As these physiological take hold, and breathing remains impaired, the mind begins to panic ("Oh no! What if I’m dying?!?"), triggering another wave of glycogen release that floods the blood with more adrenaline and glucose.
- During this massive release of glucose, the pancreas is doing its best to release all of its stored insulin, whose job is to shuttle the glucose to the cells in the body.
- The body never takes chances with its survival, so the amounts of cortisol, adrenaline, glycogen, and insulin it releases are ALWAYS MORE THAN WHAT IS NEEDED, JUST IN CASE!
- Now your body is swimming in a chemical soup of sugary stress reactions, each piling on the others.
- Adrenaline alone, which is a highly catabolic hormone (breaks down tissues), can stay active in your system for up to 48 hours, meaning that it will continue to break down tissues until the liver can break it down—by definition another stressor.
Quite a mess, right? Now, hopefully in the situation, your misery is brief, and either the food pops out by itself, or you have someone nearby that knows the basics of the Heimlich maneuver. But this is just one event.
What we’ve described here is essentially what happens in your body EVERY TIME YOU EXPERIENCE STRESS.
And longterm, too much stress-released glucose in the blood stream (not to even mention too much sugar in the diet) will have a whole host of other downstream effects:
- It puts immense pressure on the pancreas to release more insulin, but it has a limited capacity to produce, and the cells in the body will only accept so much.
- This is where metabolic syndrome and Type-II diabetes appear, resulting from insufficient insulin levels or resistance to insulin at the cellular level.
- Over time, the constant presence of too much glucose in the blood causes glycation in the body’s tissues, especially in the blood vessels.
- This basically means surfaces become sticky (like sugar) and start attracting a buildup of proteins (called AGEs), which can lead to chronic inflammation where the irritations happen, plaque build-up, and eventually blood clots.
- These conditions demand a great deal of energy and lower the body’s ability to adapt to other stressors, resulting in decreasing vitality, weakened immune and digestive function, lower levels of hormones and enzymes, and eventually chronic disease conditions like cancer, heart attack, and stroke.
So let’s take another look at stress.
For many of us, stress is most often considered in terms of immediate emotional, psychological, or mental stress—you get into a fight with your partner, your boss is hinting that you might lose your job if your performance doesn’t improve, you hear footsteps approaching you while walking alone at night, or you are worried about saving enough money to put a down payment on a house on top of student debt and other expenses.
Indeed, all of these are stressors, and we feel them in our bodies in a variety of ways, like a pinch in the gut, a headache, increased heart rate and breathing, fatigue, depression, or even as anger and frustration. All of these effects are also stress-inducing, and they tend to keep the vicious circle of the positive feedback loops turning.
But we also have to consider the other, more hidden types of stress that can burn up your body without you really being conscious of their subtle, cumulative effects.
- The body’s own stress response (leading to chronic degenerative conditions, as described above)
- Poor sleep patterns
- Poor nutrition, food allergies and sensitivities
- Impaired digestive and immune function
- Alcohol, recreational and prescription drugs
- Chronic inflammation
- Physical pain and injury
- Environmental factors like light at night, noise, electromagnetic radiation, industrial and agricultural toxins in food and water, pollution in the air, chemical cleaning agents, other people’s perfume, cigarette smoke, etc.
- Cultural and historical factors like socioeconomic status, politics, religion, education levels, employment, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, etc.
- Family patterns, behaviors, and beliefs
- Genetic predispositions
The list can go on, but the point is clear. Most of us are in stress overdrive most of the time.
We need to be kinder to ourselves, especially to our own bodies. They do everything they can to keep us going, but we have to reciprocate. We need to slow down, rest more often, nourish ourselves with plenty of good food and water, and regularly allow ourselves the opportunity to pause, listen, and respond appropriately to what our lives are presenting to us.
This is why Zenshin Method emphasizes Wholeness as a primary Quality of life—wholeness of body, heart, mind, and world. Understanding how our experiences of body, mind, and emotion contribute to our stress burden gives us the tools to get out from under it.
There’s no time like NOW to begin your journey back to health, beginning with stress reduction. Check out our services to learn how we can support you in this process.
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