The Stress Response and How it Affects You

stressedThe other day I ran into an old friend that I haven’t seen for a long time. They said to me something to me that I’ve heard many times before, “I don’t know how you do it but it looks like you get younger, not older every time I see you.” “How do you do it?” I replied by saying, “thanks so much – and it’s because I’m really happy, life is really good and I practice really good self-care.”

Later that day I was ruminating on what my friend said, and realized that the self-care piece came before the happiness part. I have a happy, healthy and wonderful life because I take the time every day to practice good “self-care” habits.  I know, this is radical thinking for overworked/overwhelmed women but I have found personally and professionally that, “if we are not selfish enough to take care of ourselves first, we have nothing of value to give to anyone else.” And our health, happiness, relationships and success suffer!

There are many ways that I practice good self-care but what I’ve learned over the years is, the most important thing that we can do for ourselves and our health and happiness is to practice “good emotional hygiene” by calming the stress response.

We’ve all heard about the stress response and how damaging it can be to our health. When we are “stressed out” our bodies are being flooded with the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Over time the constant flood of these hormones can cause premature aging, weight gain, sleep disruptions, mild to serious health problems and interfere with our success, relationships and happiness.

Here’s how it works. When you are experiencing stress, the part of your brain that is called the amygdala goes on alert. The amygdala is like the body’s internal smoke detector, it’s job is to keep you safe and it takes this job very seriously! When strong negative emotions are present like when your experiencing stress, the amygdala prepares your body to enter a full-blown, fight-or-flight response.

When the Amygdala senses danger it turns on all of the body’s defense systems in order to be ready to meet the perceived life or death challenge. It immediately starts pumping cortisol and adrenaline, tenses your muscles and raises your blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar all to be ready to meet the challenge. This response evolved to mobilize the body to face external threats – like a tiger coming to eat your ancient ancestor.

While this is very helpful if you need to run for your life, it is not so helpful in our modern day to day living. Unfortunately, these same responses get trigged many times each day when we’re faced with daily hassles, upsets, annoyances and worries.

On top of that, our internal patterns of negative thoughts and worries also trigger the fight or flight response and over time this can leave us worn down, sick, depressed, overweight, stressed out and unable to access the creative and problems solving parts of our brain.

Until stress is fully released, it stays lodged in your body and in your cells, running rampant, putting your health and happiness at risk.

Here’s how stress damages your health, your life, relationships, waistline, and more:

  1. You think about something stressful—work, money, relationships, family, what ever’s bothering you.
  2. Your amygdala (in your mid-brain) senses danger.
  3. Your amygdala helps to initiate your body’s fight-or-flight response to stress.
  4. In “fight or flight”, your body releases adrenaline and the “stress hormone” cortisol, diverts blood away from your digestive tract, leaving you less able to digest food and absorb nutrients AND more likely to gain weight.
  5. In this physiological “crisis mode,” you’re more vulnerable to pain—from chronic illness, arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraines, stomach upset, and more.
  6. In this state of heightened physiological “alert”, your brain’s creative center is deemed “non-essential” and shuts down. Down goes your problem solving, your creative skills, your intuition.
  7. You feel increasingly irritable, isolated and impatient. Your relationships suffer.
  8. Stress affects your sleep. Your metabolism slows.
  9. Your body secretes even more cortisol, wreaking more havoc on your digestion (and waist line), increasing your blood pressure, lowering your immune response.
  10. After releasing too much cortisol for too long, your body goes into “adrenal fatigue.” You feel depleted, exhausted, and depressed.
  11. You no longer have the energy to adhere to your exercise routine, your healthy eating, meditation, yoga. Migraines, insomnia, stress-related hair loss, chronic pain, and any number of other issues become regular parts of your life.
  12. Battling low energy, you can hardly focus at work, and elsewhere. Your relationships suffer.
  13. Your depression deepens. You (and your body) are STRESSED OUT.

Not only does this get in the way of you feeling happy and good in your daily life, it gets in the way of you moving forward and being successful in making your dreams a reality. This is because when we are in a state of fight or flight the survival part of our brain is in charge and we don’t have full access to the creative and problem solving parts of our brain – and that limits us and holds us back and keeps us stuck!

My absolute favorite tool for calming the stress response is EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique or Tapping. Tapping works by sending a calming response through the bodies energy system that turns off the stress response and tells the amygdala that all is well and safe.

Want to learn how to tap and turn off the Stress Response?