It’s Just Stress

It is getting to be that time of year when our bodies can get really taxed. It’s usually a combination of having lots to do, people to see, places to go and things to buy, coupled with all the less than healthy food and drink. So how do you do things differently? How can you help your body cope through the rigors of the season?

One of the time-honored remedies for dealing with stress is to exercise and eat well. This is not a new idea. It is a very well known fact. What might not be as well known is how stress takes its toll on the body.

Our bodies have well honed and integrated mechanisms for coping with stress. Since the stress response is a very basic and primitive response, the body will sacrifice a great deal to cope. In days of yore, stress was easily displaced by running away from that chasing predator. The excitation, the physical exertion, and the later recovery were necessary to survive, regroup, and continue until the next challenge occurred.

The body’s response to stress has not changed: elevated heart rate, shallow breathing, flooding the body with compounds like glucose, cortisol, and adrenaline. What we don’t get is the physical exertion to respond and let the body burn off these chemicals. Our stressors today aren’t being chased by wild animals. There’s nothing to run from and the body often doesn’t get to reset. This cycle will eventually take its toll. There will not only be the tendency to feel physically fatigued. After a while, various glands and organs will also get exhausted.

The adrenals are the main glands that deal with stress. If they get exhausted, that exhaustion can set off a chain reaction that makes the body less and less able to deal with stress. Metabolism will slow down, digestion and the ability to get nutrients to the body will be compromised, blood sugar imbalances can occur, and the list goes on. It’s not just stress. It’s a cascade of events that can lead to a significant downward health spiral if left unchecked.

So if your stress is short-term, say Thanksgiving to New Year’s, then do your best to eat well when away from the parties. Get lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and eat whole grains. These will help supply the body with the tools it needs to rebalance. Drinking alcohol uses up certain B vitamins which are very important in helping the body to deal with stress. Whole grains are particularly high in B vitamins. Taking additional B vitamins can be helpful but make sure that you are taking a good one, preferably a food based vitamin.

Long-term stress will also be helped by diet and exercise, but the body may need some additional support to help shift it away from its ingrained stress response. Because digestion gets impaired, there could be nutritional deficiencies that need addressing. Since adrenal fatigue or exhaustion can occur, some additional support may be needed.