Let's take a look at your body on stress. You can't have that discussion without first understanding your nervous system.
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While this system is complex and multi-faceted, for our purposes, we'll focus on the two branches of your Autonomic Nervous System. First, you have the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS). When your nervous system is balanced, this side is typically activated during the day. The SNS keeps you alive under stress. It's why animals being chased can outlast a predator. It's also where that adrenaline rush comes from when you're scared or surprised. It's also why, at times, you can't move in times of high stress. Think fight, flight or freeze.
The second side is your Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS). Again, when balanced this side is typically activated at night when you're sleeping. The PSNS is responsible for resting, digesting and repairing. It handles metabolic functions, cellular/tissue repair, regeneration and clean up, regulating urination, defecation, sexual function, respiration,etc.
In an ideal world, you would seamlessly switch from the SNS to PSNS and vice versa. Have you ever watched a dog go nuts when someone knocks on a door? When they realize everything is ok, they give their whole body a shake, lie down, close their eyes and go to sleep. The problem we humans have is that there are so many aspects of our lives that keep us in fight, flight or freeze. Basically, anything you perceive as stressful...work, relationships, social situations, etc. your nervous system interprets that as a threat and/or danger.
What does stress look like in real life?
- Chronic Worry
- Constant Feelings of Overwhelm
- Daily expressions of "I'm so busy!" or "There's never enough time in the day!"
- Chronic Illness/Disease
- Poor Sleep
- Junk Food Cravings
Let's take a look at physical stress. If you cut your hand, your body knows exactly what to do to heal. As soon as the injury occurs there are a number of systems that are set in motion to get you back to 100 percent. This is what is supposed to happen. What if instead of one cut, you had a thousand? Have you every heard the phrase death by a thousand cuts? A chronic stress state is the equivalent of death by a thousand cuts. There's too much of a burden on the system to deal with what's happening. You can't heal in an overburdened state.
Meet Nervous Nelly...she worries about everything. Her go to response is doom and gloom. She has anxiety because she can't stop playing out "what if" scenarios over future events. She's depressed because she can't stop rehashing past events. She gets take-out 3-5 times a week because she's too tired and busy to cook at home. She doesn't sleep well and has digestive issues.
To deal with all of this, Nervous Nelly visits her doctor where she's given prescriptions for what she's experiencing. Our Nelly takes all of this medication with little or no change. In fact, her doctor ups the dose on some of her medications.
What Nelly doesn't understand is that all medication is a chemical stressor in the body. Nelly is stuck in a stressed state adding more fuel to the fire so to speak. Most medications have constipation as a side effect. Remember, your SNS is there to keep you alive. When this system is active some systems are placed on hold until the danger/threat has passed. Your body can't deal with digestion. That energy is rerouted so that you may escape the danger/threat.
Did you know that the side effects for anxiety and depression medication is more anxiety and depression? For some people the effects include suicidal tendencies, anger and rage. In addition, Nervous Nelly might go to sleep with the aid of medication. However, these medications prevent you from reaching deep sleep, that restful state where healing occurs.
Oh, I forgot to mention...Nervous Nelly is sick often. Want to take one guess why? You guessed it! Your immune system is one of those systems placed on hold or suppressed when your SNS is active. Nelly has alot on her plate. I'm exhaused just thinking about it.
Here's the most important thing to note...You don't have to live in a chronic stress state. There is no magic solution to make all of your stress disappear. Stress is going to happen. You get to choose what happens next. Getting to the root cause of your stress is an inside job. You must explore all aspects of your life and spend some time practicing ways to manage your experiences. Are you ready to explore? Have you identified the main stressors in your life?
To help you on this journey, I've created a short guided meditation. Download and use it anytime, anywhere to help relieve stress.