Unless you’ve been living under a proverbial rock, which seems positively stressful, you’ve no doubt become aware of the negative impact of stress on your health. Stress is responsible for raising blood pressure, causing hormonal imbalances, insomnia, and weight gain.
But did you know that stress also does a number on the health of your gut and your ability to properly digest food?
How Our “Fight or Flight” Response is Killing Us
There was a time stress was our friend because it kept us alive. Stress causes a chemical reaction in the body, also called the “fight or flight” response, which allowed our ancestors to run from Saber-Tooth tigers and wrestle wild boars.
When we’re stressed, our Adrenal glands, those tiny walnut shaped glands that sit atop our kidneys, release the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine, and norepenephine. These chemicals gave our ancestors a short burst of heightened awareness and energy so they could stay alive and keep the species going.
It’s ironic that a hormonal response intended to keep us alive is now essentially the cause of so many deadly diseases. While being stuck in traffic or fighting with our boss is no picnic, it is certainly no cause for our fight or flight chemical response.
And yet, our bodies don’t know the difference between a bear chasing us and a mortgage payment chasing us. The fact is, stress causes or hormones to surge no matter what the initial trigger. The primary stress Westerners experience today is in the chronic form, like work issues, lack of sleep, and feeling strapped for cash.
Cortisol, the Real Culprit
Chronic stress keeps our cortisol levels elevated, which leads to a whole host of health issues. Elevated cortisol levels:
- Raise blood sugar
- Suppress the immune system
- Promote leaky gut syndrome
- Cause hormone imbalances
- Increase depression and anxiety
- Hamper our digestive processes
The fact is, chronic stress significantly damages your body, particularly your digestive system. By finding ways to manage your stress, you can improve your digestion and limit the symptoms of an unhealthy gut.
While managing stress often feels like an ‘easier said than done’ scenario, there are effective ways to do it. Here are three of them:
1. Avoid Negativity
Stop listening to the news. I know, you’re thinking, “But if I don’t listen to what’s going on in the world, doesn’t that somehow make me a bad citizen?” Nope. It makes you someone who understand the toxicity of negative energy and chooses to set healthy boundaries.
The majority of the news, whether it’s global, political, or entertainment, is negative, and we are being bombarded with it on a daily basis. These days the news is less about informing us and more about getting a reaction out of us. Part of this reaction will be a chemical one, so start cutting news out of your life.
Also, try to cut ties, or at the very least reduce interaction, with the negative people in your life. You know those people whose glasses are always half empty, are always the victim, are always finding something wrong with the world and people around them? They inflict their negative mindsets on people who are otherwise positive.
Meditating is a great way to naturally relieve the stress from the day. And, despite what you may have been led to believe, you needn’t sit in an uncomfortable position for an hour, chanting “om” and keeping your mind free from all thoughts. Meditation is supposed to relax you, not stress you out!
Mindfulness meditation simply involves sitting comfortably, in a chair or on the floor, breathing rhythmically while bringing your mind’s attention to the present moment. As soon as your mind drifts, gently bring it back to the present as you would a puppy who has wandered off.
Meditation not only helps people experience more joy in their life, but studies have shown its ability to ease the effects of stress on the body.
[Editor’s note: If you’ve tried meditation in the past and had a hard time with it, I highly recommend you try Sonic Wave Relaxation Therapy instead. This proven technique takes only 10 minutes a day and is incredibly fun to do!]
3. Be Social
As people get older, many stop being as social as they once were. This causes a feeling of isolation and anxiety, which exacerbates the effects of chronic stress. This is why it is important for people at every age to get out of the house and be around others; to enjoy social interaction.
A 1995 Cleveland Clinic study found that “Social support appeared to play an important role in moderating the effects of pain, functional limitation and even depression on the subject’s quality of life.”
Just as stress creates a negative chemical reaction in the body, social interaction crates a positive one by releasing Oxytocin. Oxytocin has the ability to suppress the body’s reaction to stress, giving your immune system a boost and allowing your body to heal naturally. So, make sure you get yourself out of the house and socially interact. Take a class, volunteer, or look into social events in your area.
It’s also important to note that stress plays a major role in killing the good bacteria in our GI tract, leaving the bad bacteria to wreak havoc on our health. Once this balance has been altered, inflammation results and disease takes hold. If you didn’t know, all disease starts in our gut!
While eliminating the effects of stress is important in supporting these beneficial bacteria, there are other vital steps you must take to keep your entire GI tract functioning optimally. Learn how to repair your gut and ward off common disease like arthritis, diabetes and even cancer!