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Healing Stress

Stress is a buzzword and a prevalent symptom of modern life. It is a reality we all face, affecting individuals regardless of age, gender, or life stage.

What is stress? How does it affect us, and most importantly, what can we do about it?

Stress is anything that challenges our systems. It can be beneficial, as it fosters growth in our bones and stimulates our heart. Stress helps us become fit, learn, and improve. Exercise, for instance, is a type of positive stress that promotes fitness and strength.

However, when challenges exceed our body's capacity to manage them and stress becomes prolonged, it ceases to be beneficial. This negative side of stress is something we are all familiar with.

Challenges can be categorised into three main types: chemical, physical, and emotional.

Chemical stressors may include toxic chemicals found in household products such as cleaning supplies, makeup, skincare items, perfume, garden sprays, paints, plastics, carpets, furniture, and mattresses. Overuse of tea, coffee, sugar, drugs, alcohol, and even dehydration can also create stress.

Physical stressors include poor sleep quality, prolonged sitting, repetitive manual tasks, accidents, injuries, surgeries, lack of exercise, inappropriate exercise, or excessive exercise.

Emotional stressors encompass workplace tension, overworking, underemployment, relationship issues, parenting challenges, addictions, negative thought patterns, unhealthy family dynamics, low self-esteem, poor body image, peer pressure, social media engagement, excessive screen time, prejudice, isolation, and experiences of trauma or migration.

The lists are extensive and reflect many aspects of modern life.

When our body and mind perceive an overwhelming or ongoing challenge, the biological stress response is triggered. The "fight, flight, freeze" response, embedded in our nervous system for survival, activates during threats, such as running from a tiger or fleeing a fire.

This system, vital for life, dominates all other body systems and creates a surge of activity.Our heart rate increases, and blood is redirected from the brain and digestive system to major muscles. Shoulders elevate, the head shifts forward, the jaw tightens, and muscles tense for action. The adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol, preparing us for strength, focus, and escape or combat. Extra glucose and cholesterol enter the bloodstream for intense activity. In this state, our pupils focus narrowly, muscles tense, and the brain prioritises survival, making us unavailable for connection, communication, love, care, or creativity. Everything feels urgent, leading to increased aggression and impatience.

Chronic Stress can be Devastating

If the stress-activated "fight or flight" system remains switched on, the consequences can be serious. Long-term stress affects most body systems: hormonal, immune, digestive, cardiovascular, nervous, and psycho-emotional regulation. Stress-related symptoms include infertility, gut health issues, autoimmune compromise, chronic pain, headaches, fatigue, sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, heart disease, and blood pressure problems.

A Whole Body Approach to Recovery

So what can be done? The best place to start is at the root of the problem. Identify the stressors in your life and determine what you can change. Sometimes, it’s manageable—unplugging, getting enough sleep, modifying exercise routines, eating well, hydrating, changing your thinking, connecting with nature, and practicing deep breathing can help.

From my own experience, it is often not as simple as it sounds. Once the body establishes a stress response, we may become "stuck" in this pattern. Stress might be ongoing or beyond our control. In such cases, seeking the right advice, support, and guidance can make a significant difference.

Adopting a holistic mind-body approach to healing and recovery is crucial. Consider all components and types of stress, the nature of the "fight or flight" response, and find what works best for you. It could be breathing exercises, moving more, spending time in nature, drinking more water, or seeking professional support.

Science shows that the brain and nervous system have an extraordinary adaptive and reorganizational potential, known as neuroplasticity.

We can heal from stress and take proactive steps to reduce its impact on our lives.

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