Why stress is so bad for you and you need to sort it out.
It’s all about your hormones
Everything in the human body interacts with everything else.
There is virtually no system or function that operates in isolation, everything is interconnected by your central nervous system (kinda like the wiring in your supercomputer), your blood (the river of life) and by the chemical signals and instructions that blood carries around, in the form of hormones, proteins and other compounds.
Hormones arrive at an organ or a certain type of tissue or cell, and deliver instructions telling those tissues or cells what to do. When hormone signalling works well, like signalling in a computer or on a railway network, all is well. When signalling is ‘shot to shit’, just like on a road or rail network, all hell breaks loose, and we either have major crashes, or everything seizes up in grid lock. That’s how important hormones are.
You have hormones that govern when you feel hungry or full; hormones that make you happy or sad, angry or calm, lively or relaxed. Hormones and minerals between them regulate many complex processes in the body including appetite, blood pressure and elimination of waste.
Fight or flight…rest and digest
You have likely heard of the ‘fight or flight’ response. When you feel fear, when you sense some imminent danger, your body releases a rush of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol are the ones you will have heard of) and prepare you to either fight, physically, or to run away. Yes, this all dates back to caveman and the proverbial sabre-toothed tiger, these hormonal systems have been keeping us safe since we climbed down out of the trees in East Africa seven or eight million years ago.
When those stress hormones flood your body, they trigger a whole bunch of things to happen. They divert your body’s energy resources away from things like ‘fighting off the common cold’ and ‘digesting breakfast’ and ‘making my hair nice and shiny’ in favour of more immediately useful functions like ‘run like f***’ and ‘fight the tiger/wrestle the alligator’ and so on. In effect, what this means is, a flood of stress hormones shuts down your immune system, your digestive system and your anti-ageing, beauty systems, in favour of stuff that’s going to keep you alive for the next ten minutes – the ability to punch, grapple and run. You feel awake, alert, strong…but inside, other systems have been put on hold temporarily for you to do that.
Now, can you see, that if you spend half your life living in a stress response, then you spend half your life with compromised immune function, compromised digestive function and compromised anti-ageing functions?
Can you now see, how 30 years of chronic stress can lead to:
- Poor immune function – catch coughs and colds all the time
- Poor immune function long term – increased risk of cancer and heart disease
- Poor digestive function – IBS, bloating, gas, diarrhoea, constipation, poor absorption of minerals and other nutrients
- Weak anti-ageing systems – look like shit, bad skin, hair, nails
Chronic stress, through hormone havoc, takes a toll.
In broad terms, hormonally, the opposite bodily state to fight or flight, is rest and digest.
Now that makes sense, doesn’t it?
You can see how we evolved such systems millions of years ago. There are times we need to be ready to fight, or take flight, such as out on the hunt, and then there are times we can rest, and divert our body’s energy to digest, such as when we are relaxed around the safety of the camp fire.
Biologically, you can’t do both at once. It’s black and white. North and South. They are opposites. You can’t do both at the same time.
Now you know why they say you shouldn’t eat when you are in a highly agitated state, when you are totally stressed out. It’s because digestive processes require vast amounts of your body’s energy – to produce stomach acid, without which you will not digest proteins properly; to power peristaltic action, moving your food down through your bowels ready for elimination; to increase blood flow around the gut, ready to take the nutrients from your food and move them to your liver and from there off all around your body.
You see, digestion takes a lot of energy (that’s why you feel sleepy after a big meal) and your body cannot be on high alert, ready to fight, if all that energy is working on digestion. So, when the alert signal comes (when stress hormones are released), blood flow is diverted away from the gut and sent to the muscles instead, and digestive function is compromised.
And we are not even starting to talk about many of the subtler nuances here. In ‘fight or flight’ your body is trying to raise blood sugar, to fuel your muscles…in ‘rest and digest’ your body is trying to lower blood sugar, as part of the natural ‘digest and file away’ process of replenishment.
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To your good health!