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The Impact of Chronic Stress on Your Health

ImpactOfStressBy Jacquie Eubanks BSN, RN

Many of us have difficult days where we are pulled in too many directions, trying to balance our work, home, family and social lives.  We have come to accept the fact that stress is a normal part of everyday living.  Short term acute stressors, such as meeting deadlines, sitting in traffic, tending to an unhappy child, taking final exams or dealing with an unpredictable event, are all generally manageable situations.  The body responds by instantly releasing stress hormones designed to help both the mind and body rise to meet whatever challenges you are facing in that particular moment.  And that’s actually a good thing.  Naturally occurring performance enhancing chemicals heighten our abilities in the short term. 

In response to acute stress, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system is activated. Cortisol, adrenalin and neurotransmitters are released as heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, breathing becomes more rapid, and our primitive “fight or flight” response to threat is switched on.  Once the threat has passed or the traffic eases or the baby stops crying, the body’s system returns to normal homeostasis.  It’s the repeated exposure to prolonged and continuous stressors that results in the chronic over-release of stress hormones and the subsequent breakdown or deregulation of many bodily systems and degenerating health.

The reality is that we live in stressful times.  We worry about the economy, climate change, job performance, our health or whether our favorite team will win the World Cup.  One-third of Americans feel they are under constant extreme stress that negatively impacts their lives.  In reality, 43% of adults suffer from the adverse health effects of chronic stress, and 75% of doctor visits are for stress-related ailments.  Chronic stress is linked to heart disease, hypertension, high blood sugar, diabetes and decreased immune response.  If you are genetically predisposed to any of these chronic illnesses or you have unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as poor food choices, smoking or high alcohol consumption, chronic stress can accelerate the onset of disease. 

Some of us have become so used to dealing with chronic stress that it begins to feel “normal,” and we don’t realize what a huge impact it has on our physical and mental health.  Finding ways to eliminate the stressors that we can control, and a way to deal with stressors that are out of our control, can go a long way towards improved mental health and physical wellbeing.  For example, if commuter traffic is heavy every day, leaving home or work a bit earlier or later removes that one stressor from your life.  When you’re not grumbling about the traffic, you can listen to soothing music, which is calming and immune supportive.

As some of the more simple problems are solved, stress becomes less overwhelming, leaving us better able to deal with more complex difficulties.  Stress affects everyone differently and there is no simple fix to solve all stress inducing experiences.  Taking a broad based approach to dealing with stress involves coming up with different strategies for stress management, which can include reducing pressures or increasing coping skills or a combination of the two.    

  • Be physically active.  You don’t need to run marathons to get the stress-reducing benefits of exercise.  Exercise not only keeps our cardiovascular systems healthy, it helps to deplete stress hormones and releases mood enhancing endorphins, which modulate appetite, enhance the immune response and help us cope with stress.  Keep your motivation levels high by selecting any form of physical activity that you enjoy.
  • Get a good night’s sleep.  Sleep is a powerful antidote to stress.  When you are sleeping, the body’s stress hormones return to normal levels.  Plus a good night’s sleep gives you the energy to deal with the stressors you may encounter the following day. 
  • Engage in a hobby.  It can be anything you love doing that allows you to disengage from your thoughts of to-do lists and other stressors.  Repetitive activity keeps your attention focused in the present.  Read, create, paint, build something, learn to cook or knit. 
  • Spend time in nature.  Being outdoors is a natural stress reducer.  Take the dog for a walk, go hiking, biking or fishing.  Create a flower or vegetable garden or sit and enjoy the warm sunshine. 
  • Be social.  Stay connected to loved ones, friends and those around you.  Socializing releases oxytocin, a body chemical that helps combat stress hormones and lower blood pressure. Whenever possible, avoid stressful people or situations. 
  • Give yourself 10 minutes of peace and quiet every day.  Sitting quietly can trigger natural relaxation responses.  Try yoga or meditation or take a warm, relaxing bath.  Turn off electronics and dedicate this time just for yourself.   
  • Revise your calendar to the extent possible.  Finish current obligations and then cut back on some things if you are overscheduled.  Learn to say no to taking on new tasks if fitting them into your schedule is going to cause additional stress. 
  • Find time for fun.  A good laugh can help reduce stress hormone levels and help relieve built up pressures.  Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, which promote a general sense of wellbeing.  If life is all work and no play, make changes that support your physical and emotional good health.    

Products for stress relief include: 

Stress-B-Plus (7452)
Stress-B-Plus (7452) by Douglas Laboratories provides a complete array of B vitamins and related nutrients for support of blood cells, hormones, energy production, the biosynthesis of neurotransmitters, and nervous system function. 
GABA 750 mg
GABA 750 mg by PhysioLogics provides an amino acid naturally produced in the central nervous system that has an inhibitory effect, calming overexcited nerve impulses, aiding relaxation and reducing anxiety.  GABA promotes natural sleep and balanced mood.  
MyoCalm by Metagenics supplies a specialized blend of calcium, magnesium and herbs for relaxation support and support of healthy muscle function. 
De-Stress by Biotics Research supplies a patented, all natural, clinically effective bio-active peptide derived from milk and formulated for natural stress and anxiety relief. 


Get Some Sleep!

GetSomeSleepBy Jacquie Eubanks BSN, RN

Along with good nutrition and exercise, sleep is an essential and basic requirement for physical health and our mental and emotional wellbeing.  While an occasional sleepless night is normal and not a cause for concern, up to 75% of Americans report sleep difficulties several nights per week.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who are persistently sleep deprived are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity.  In other words, if you want to stay healthy and perform at your best, consider a good night’s sleep a necessity, not a luxury. 

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that school-aged children need at least 10 hours of sleep daily, teens need 9 – 10 hours and adults need 7 – 8 hours.  However, approximately 30% of adults and teens report getting less than optimal amounts of sleep on a regular basis.  Even minimal sleep loss can affect our mood, energy level and our ability to handle stress.  Neuroscientists have long debated why we spend one-third of our lives sleeping, but we do know that while we are resting, our brains are actively stabilizing memories, processing information and solving problems. 

While we are in deep sleep, our bodies are restoring, repairing and detoxifying.  Blood flow to the brain is diverted to the muscles to regenerate energy.  Fertility hormones are released along with hormones that regulate appetite and promote the growth, maintenance and repair of both muscles and bones.  Our immune systems increase production of certain proteins and agents that fight illness and aid recovery.  During sleep our bloodstreams are detoxified, energy is replenished and broken down tissues are rebuilt.  Sleep is the time when our brains do their housekeeping, flushing out toxins and clearing byproducts of neural activity that accumulate during wakefulness. 

When you are sleep deprived, your body cannot function optimally.  Over time, lack of sleep can erode your general health similar to the way a poor diet or lack of exercise can damage your wellbeing.  Insomnia is the most common type of sleep disorder followed by sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and narcolepsy.  When the inability to get a good night’s rest interferes with your ability to function during the daytime, consider consulting a health care provider to rule out underlying causes of sleep disturbances. 

Strategies to optimize deep, restorative sleep include: 

  • Establish how much sleep you need and then set a regular bedtime.  When you are getting sufficient sleep, you should wake naturally without an alarm. 
  • Keep a regular sleep/wake cycle.  Try not to fluctuate by more than one hour, even on weekends. 
  • Create a sleep sanctuary.  Keep the cool room, ideally between 60° and 70°.  Consider switching to low wattage light bulbs.  Eliminate noise to the extent possible.  The ideal sleeping environment should be comfortable, cool, dark and quiet. 
  • Avoid alcohol, nicotine and caffeine in the four to six hours before bed.  It’s best not to eat a heavy meal within several hours of bedtime. 
  • Turn off electronic equipment and dim the lights one hour before bed.  Better yet, reserve the bedroom for appropriate bedroom activities only. 
  • Exercise late afternoon or early evening but not within two hours of bedtime.  Exercising earlier in the day or several hours before bedtime helps to promote a good night’s rest.  
  • Practice relaxation techniques such as a warm bath, aromatherapy, or meditation to reduce stress and promote restful sleep.
  • Establish a soothing bedtime routine with relaxing activities such as light stretching, reading or listening to music, which may help to ease the transition from wake time to sleep time. 

Products that promote sleep include:

Kavinace® by NeuroScience is a natural calming product that helps to reduce the symptoms of insomnia and anxiety by promoting healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that aids in stress relief and promotes restful sleep. 
Somniphan by Intensive Nutrition is a safe and effective sleep aid for occasional or chronic sleeplessness or frequent night wakings. 
GABA 750 mg
GABA 750 mg by PhysioLogics promotes restful sleep and balanced mood and calms overexcited nerve impulses. 
MyoCalm by Metagenics provides a specialized blend of bioavailable calcium, magnesium and herbs that support muscle contraction and relaxation responses.  This product may also aid in the relief or prevention of symptoms of restless leg syndrome.