What is Stress?

Through this blog, I’ll share information for stress management, my own personal stories of dealing with stress, as well as recipes, and lifestyle habits that help our bodies and minds deal with stress. Let’s explore, together, how to feel good in our day-to-day living. 

To understand stress, first we need to understand homeostasis. Don’t worry, this won’t hurt! (I aim to reduce stress, not create it. 😊) Homeostasis is the body’s ability to maintain a relatively stable internal environment even though the outside world is continuously changing.This includes body temperature, blood flow, adequate levels of nutrients in the blood, and removal of wastes.Stress in its most basic form would be described as anything outside the body pushing it out of homeostasis, the stress response kicks in and puts the body back into homeostasis. It does so at whatever the cost to the body, ironically, it’s necessary for survival.Let’s talk about the stress response and what it’s designed to do. There is a famous example used by Dr. Robert Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, to explain the stress response. A zebra is calmly grazing on the savanna. A lion leaps out from behind the bushes. The zebra’s “fight-or-flight” response kicks in starting in the brain, creating a rush of hormones through the body that shuts down unnecessary body systems and activates needed systems so the zebra can fight or flee. On this day, our zebra flees and outruns the lion. The lion gives up chase and the zebra returns to grazing and the hormones that created the stress response return to normal levels. 

zebras with lions onlooking

What are the “unnecessary” body systems that get shutdown during a stress response? 

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  • Digestion, stomach and upper-intestinal action ceases
  • Decrease in blood flow to kidneys
  • Decrease of hearing
  • Decrease of peripheral vision
  • Constriction of blood vessels to unneeded parts of the body, to force more blood flow to needed areas

What gets increased during the stress response?

  • Increase in heartbeat
  • More oxygen access to the lungs via enlarged vessels
  • Enlargement of blood vessels to muscles, to increase blood flow
  • Increase in blood sugar to feed the muscles energy
  • Increase in muscle tension to provide extra speed and strength if needed

Now, at one time humans required a fight-or-flight response similar to zebras. However, times have changed for humans. Rarely do we have a lion (or someone) jump out at us. Our more current and urgent issue is we have long chronic stress periods that we create in our own minds. For example, we deal with having to pay bills, having to make money and not having enough of it, rush hour traffic, tight schedules, extra-curricular activities (our own, or the kids’), lack of enough sleep, difficult relationships, getting ahead at work, and this list goes on and on. We create these stresses by focusing on them with our mind. Our body reacts the same way to stress whether the incident is actually happening, or we are imagining it happening. Our thoughts are powerful!

woman feeling stress

When our body is in a constant state of stress and we re-examine the lists above as to what systems are turned off and on in our body from a stress response, you can see how, long-term, stress is a really big deal, and not in a good way. Especially in areas like turning off digestion, increasing blood pressure, and increasing blood sugar. Typically, we’re not running from a lion! In our case, our stresses stay high and our body stays in a state of high alert, thus these issues become a chronic problem.

Stress is the cause of many chronic illnesses, as well as issues with depression and anxiety. Constant, unrelieved stress leads to symptoms of chronic fatigue, chronic infection, headaches, digestive problems, hypertension, arthritis, eczema, and allergies. The reality is, not dealing properly with stress may slowly kill us. And if we don’t get on top of our stressors and learn how to deal with them in a positive way, our health is in a whole heap of trouble.

The good news is, there are ways to deal with stress and lessen the load on our body. One way is the food we take into our bodies has a direct effect on how our body can deal with stress. Another area is looking at lifestyle habits and where it’s possible to make some positive changes.

That’s where I come in. I’m here to help you de-stress with a special focus on nutrition and lifestyle habits. Look around here on my website, follow me on social media (Instagram) (Facebook), sign up for my newsletter (at the bottom of this page) to find recipes and lifestyle tips to help you feel more calm, less overwhelm, and reduce the affects of stress on your body and mind.

Sources:

“Fight-or-Flight Response.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 8 Feb. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fight-or-flight response.

Marieb, Elaine Nicpon, and Suzanne M. Keller. Essentials of Human Anatomy & Physiology. 12th ed., Pearson Education South Asia Pte Ltd, 2018, page 19.

Sapolsky, Robert M. Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: the Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping. 3rd ed., Henry Holt and Co., 2004.

Talbott, Shawn M. The Cortisol Connection: Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health. Hunter House, 2007.

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