Guest blogger and best friend Stephanie Pandolph is currently working as a Financial Analyst and living in New York City. Although she describes herself as analytical by trade, she is a creative soul who enjoys painting, writing, and dancing in her free time. She believes that health is KING and she is obsessed with learning about the human body. Below she touches on a personal issue but one quite pertainant to society today:
Everyone feels stressed at times. But in today’s world, stress has become accepted as the status quo; as though stress is a byproduct of being ambitious. However, chronic stress is known to lead to cognitive decline and a slew of health complications; so, our grin and bear it attitudes do us no good. To get a better understanding of why chronic stress is so detrimental to your health and success, I want to explain what exactly is happening in your body when you get stressed and how it affects you.
The stress response is an incredibly complicated process (over 1,400 chemical reactions occur), so let’s just focus on what kicks off the stress reaction in your body. When we are stressed, we produce 3 hormones: adrenaline, aldosterone, and cortisol. When adrenaline is released, our heart rate goes up, our blood vessels constrict, and our airways dilate. All of these reactions bring more blood flow to our muscles and more oxygen to our lungs; which is essential in fight-or-flight situations.
Aldosterone regulates our electrolytes and causes reabsorption of sodium to our bloodstream, raising our blood pressure. This lifesaving mechanism is needed in situations where you’d have severe blood loss, as your blood pressure would drop dramatically. Cortisol, releases sugar into your bloodstream, powering your muscles through a fight-or-flight situation. It also signals the other systems in the body to curb non-essential functions and is coupled with a decrease in a “happy” hormone, DHEA.
These three hormones are crucial in short-term stress responses, but when they are elevated over long periods, it wreaks havoc on the body’s systems. You probably have heard about how stress can cause memory loss, anxiety, and depression; can increase your risk of heart attacks and strokes; and can lead to digestive issues. However, one of the most damaging effects of stress is that on the immune system. Stress hormones signal the immune systems cells to fight infection or trauma, and when there isn’t any it turns into an inflammatory response. Now remember, inflammation is critical to helping the body heal (i.e. a swollen ankle after you sprain it), but chronic inflammation is linked to dozens of diseases. To name a few: rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, osteoarthritis, asthma, allergies, heart disease, periodontitis and cancer. In fact any condition with “itis” in its name = inflammation. Just to appeal to the more vain side in all of us, chronic inflammation also leads to accelerated cell aging and can cause weight gain around your stomach. Hello wrinkles, goodbye six pack!
But how can we control our stress levels living in such a demanding society? Every one of us is constantly torn between social commitments, work demands, and personal goals. Although there are many ways to reduce stress, to get started I recommend making three simple changes to your life.
The first thing you should do is practice mindfulness. While I do recommend meditation, take mindfulness a step beyond by just simply being aware of whether or not you’re stressed. Many people tend to ignore the signs of stress. Check-in with yourself. If you’re feeling irritable or run-down, chances are you are chronically stressed. Once you recognize it, be proactive about doing the below tips, or whatever stress reduction techniques you enjoy, to immediately begin lowering your stress levels.
Make happiness goals. You should aim to do something every day that makes you genuinely happy. If work is stressing you out, don’t rush home to get ready for the next day or watch Netflix; make a point of doing something immediately after work that helps you clear your mind. Whether it be painting, dancing, getting together with friends, give yourself a little TLC every single day. After all, we have the unalienable right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. So go out and pursue it!
Lastly, do some meditation and breathing techniques. If you’re skeptical about this “hippy stuff” try out a free, short meditation like the ones at UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. There are free guided meditations as short as 3 minutes.
How do you unwind? What do you do at the end of long day? Comment below with your tips on how you keep your stress levels down. We would love to hear from you!