S-T-R-E-S-S!!! It triggers our sympathetic nervous system, or more commonly known as the "fight or flight" mode. And while we (most of us) are not actually running from that Grizzly Bear each day, the lower-level chronic stress is triggering the exact same mode! Most of us have an idea of what stress is, or what it means to us. But many of us don't know how permeating stress can actually be. Stress can come from many forms, each of these triggering that sympathetic nervous system
- Mental/Emotional - Whether perceived or subconscious, this stress can result from fear, worry, excitement, anxiety, existential angst, lack of purpose, covertness: the argument with your partner, the new job and its resulting expectations, the loss of a loved one, etc.
- Physical/Biomechanical - Can results from trauma, fractures, muscle injuries or weakness, nerve compression, intense prolonged exercise, amongst others. It could be the broken wrist after going over the mountain bike handlebars, it could be from a surgery procedure, or misalignment of the body from years of slumping over that keyboard, or you've noticed lately that it takes running a full marathon to get the same endorphin rush as 5 miles used to give you.
- Chemical/Biochemical - This physiological stress is usually hidden or underlying; stress that we may or may not be aware of: infection, inflammation, incorrect diet, food additives, chemicals (pesticides, herbicides), drugs, alcohol, caffeine, blood sugar disregulation, sleep deprivation, toxic metals, radiation, EMFs, allergies, over-active immune system, exogenous hormones, antibiotics, parasites, fungus bacterial infections. This is quite an extensive list that shows just how easily our bodies can be stressed without any outburst or medical trauma.
Stress is everywhere. And our society seems to crave more of it every day. But what happens when our bodies are bombarded by all these stressors without any respite? Eventually our body starts to break down. Our immune systems become compromised and our body is not as efficient dealing with these stressors as before. Additionally, research now shows that stress is a leading contributor to leaky gut and chronic illness.
"Stress increases intestinal permeability, visceral sensitivity, alteration in GI-motility and leads to profound mast cell activation resulting in the release of many pro inflammatory mediators. "
In fact, Dr. Fasano from the University of Maryland School of Medicine purports in his research [1, 2] that having a leaky gut is one of the required factors in the development of autoimmune disease. And with over 50 million Americans  having autoimmune disease (that is more than the 12 million with cancer or the 25 million with heart disease, btw), I would say its a pretty safe assumption there may be a correlation with all this stress and the rise of autoimmune disease!
Personally, I know that I used to carry a lot of chronic stress for many many years. I'm that typical type A personality that needs to always be achieving and setting the curve on class exams. I never rested, I had a love affair with coffee, and frankly I was jazzed on the feeling I got from that level of achievement - or was it the coffee? not sure. But then you add to that elevated level of chronic stress some acute stress events (cycling accident that resulted in multiple injuries, loss of my mom and a pressurization emergency at FL250) that happened within months of each other and you have the perfect storm for illness and disease to progress at a rapid rate.
Stress management these days is a lot more than just managing the emotional aspect of stress. We have to look at all the stress factors and eliminate as many as possible. Because let's face it, we will never escape it all. The most important step however, is gaining appreciation for just how much can be a stressor on the body and bringing awareness to your own stress factors. Because until you are aware of it, you won't be able to do anything about it. Now you can!
I would love to hear in the comments what you do to manage everyday stressors (hidden and obvious) in the comments below!