Did you know that April is National Stress Awareness Month?
With only a few days left in April, I wanted to talk about stress, since it’s one of the most common roadblocks to losing weight and overcoming chronic diseases such as autoimmunity and other inflammatory conditions. Indeed, stress alone can undo the health benefits of a perfect Paleo diet!
Our nervous system has evolved very little since the days of our primal ancestors and our stress response (which is largely mediated by the nervous system) is essentially the same as it was millions of years ago. Stated simply: we only have one stress response.
The body reacts to all stressors (whether real or imagined) in the same way — by activating the sympathetic branch of your nervous system also known as “Fight or Flight”. This ultimately results in the production of inflammation, which can literally save your life by allowing you to temporarily ignore injuries while escaping immediate danger. For example, inflammation can quarantine infections that may have gotten into the blood, or it can act like an ‘ankle brace’ to help you keep going if you break your ankle trying to run away from a saber-toothed cat. The point is, nature intended for inflammation to be a short-term survival strategy.
Chronic Stress refers to ongoing, long-term stress that doesn’t stop. Stress is meant to be short-term (acute), and historically, it was. You either escaped from the saber-toothed cat, or you didn’t…but in any case, the chase didn’t last for days on end. Only recently in human evolution have we entered an era where we are constantly ‘stressed out’, to no end.
Chronic stress does some not-so-great things to the body and brain:
- We lose our ability to control our inflammatory response without adequate adrenal gland function producing enough of the anti-inflammatory hormone cortisol. Keep in mind that most, if not all “diseases of modern civilization” have inflammation at their root (such as autoimmune disease, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc.)
- Eventually our adrenal glands aren’t able to keep up with the need for adrenaline and cortisol production, and they become exhausted (this is called “adrenal fatigue”).
- Stress in any form can seriously interfere with our goals and health. This is largely because when the body thinks we’re in danger, it automatically shuts off the ability to heal damaged tissues, digest food properly, sleep deeply, or have good old-fashioned fun (which is ultimately what life is supposed to be about)!
Stressors are inevitable, but stress is not. We have power over our “stress response”, that is, how we respond to the stressors in our lives. Understanding our natural response to stress is the first and most important step in learning to re-train our stress responses to work for us, instead of against us. Research shows that one of the most effective tools for re-training our stress response is the practice of mindfulness. This week on the Paleo Plan blog, our fitness guru Max explains how to start meditating and shares a basic (but highly effective) “Moment of Mindfulness” breathing meditation.
I’ll leave you with this bit of nutritional advice – if you can reduce stress in only one area of your life, focus on relaxing and expressing an attitude of gratitude, particularly around meal times. Expressing gratitude physically increases our digestive function by putting the nervous system into the parasympathetic (rest and digest) state (the opposite of ‘fight or flight’). When we’re stressed or rushed during mealtimes, our bodies are much less efficient at extracting nutrients from food.
It’s unreasonable to try and ‘stop stress’, because as mentioned, we need the stress response for survival! Overcoming chronic stress involves learning how to efficiently recognize life’s many and inevitable stressors, and modifying our behavior accordingly. With time, patience, forgiveness, and diligent practice, we learn to not give away our ‘sympathetic’ energy to anything that isn’t currently threatening our life. And remember, when all else fails, just keep breathing (with your diaphragm)!
“Stressing over stress is what makes stress so stressful”. ~ Mark Sisson
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Put Your Stress in Check!
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|When we’re stressed-out, it’s common to breathe with our chests (instead of our diaphragms) which triggers further stress in a vicious cycle. Learning to correct breathing patterns is essential in overcoming stress-related diseases and achieving overall health and well-being. The Spire breathing monitor clips easily to clothing and connects to your Iphone to give instantaneous feedback about breathing. Spire helps the most stressed-out person to re-train their breath, mind, and nervous system to be more calm and focused. |
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|“Stress kills.” We’ve all heard that saying. But do you know how and why stress kills? Did you also know that without stress, we would all be dead? While the process is more complex than I’m going to make it out to be, the end all effect of chronic stress is chronic inflammation, which is thought to lie at the root of most, if not all diseases of ‘modern civilization’.|
Chronic Stress → Inflammation → Disease → More stress → More inflammation → Worsening of disease →