What does stress do to your health?

Ahhh, stress, the constant and faithful companion of life. It’s a necessary evil, but knowing when our ambition crosses that fine line to anxiety can be a tricky judgment call. As we know, a certain amount of stress, or shall we say motivation, is necessary and provides just the spice we need to get through the day. From a medical standpoint, we can actually measure the major stress hormone of our body called cortisol. From here, we can safely say, that when this hormone is secreted in a dysfunctional fashion, our stress level has crossed the line from working for us to working against us.

A stressful lifestyle typically sneaks up on us in a slow and unassuming fashion. We layer our schedules, entertain more and more fears, and slowly cut a self-care routine out of our day. We typically do this with the best of intentions, but it inevitably leads to disastrous results.

To thine own self be true — the science behind caring for yourself.

To thine own self be true — How many times can I use that one-liner in a blog? Caring for our body promotes health and well-being. Feel-good hormones such as oxytocin, also known as the love or bonding hormone, are not present in high levels when our cortisol levels and adrenal function are out of balance. So, caring for ourselves allows us to be more “loving” to others. A beautiful truth with scientific backing. Setting an example for our children and family members by taking care of ourselves can be a positive thing. It sends the message that we are enough in life. It says what we can produce in a given day, while maintaining a balanced lifestyle, actually is enough.

The science behind stress

Here’s the science of it. When we experience acute stress, our bodies produce cortisol. Think of the cortisol as the get-up-and-go hormone. We produce it at higher levels in the morning and in a normal sleep/wake cycle, the cortisol gradually diminishes throughout the day. Under chronic stress, we will find that our morning get-up-and-go cortisol has gotten up and left. If your morning cortisol is low, then there is a significant problem, which is likely lack of sleep, excess stress, or a combination of both.  Here’s the good news – our bodies were not meant to live under chronic stress. When we constantly operate from this state, the body’s ability to secrete cortisol in an appropriate fashion diminishes, resulting in both fatigue and increased fat storage. In our desperate search for an answer to fatigue, we may be tempted to reach for that sugary treat, or other empty and unnecessary calories. What our bodies really need is balance.

Thriving, not surviving

This fast-paced lifestyle, which awards a badge of honor for being overworked and out of balance, is literally making us sick and tired. Proper sleep, daily exercise (yes, daily — at least 20 minutes), a good diet, a meditation practice and good thought management are essential to having our bodies not just survive, but thrive. Our culture is starting to take a serious look at just how far we will go to “achieve.”  Arianna Huffington, of the Huffington Post, recently wrote a book on the topic. After fainting in her office and waking up in a pool of blood on her desk, she had to re-evaluate her definition of success.  The  experience made her take a closer look at how she operated. In her book, Thrive, she discusses this all-important topic of redefining success, living a life of well-being and wisdom.

My wake-up call

My wake-up call came after I had my cortisol levels checked (See our Sex and Energy Modules). What I found was surprising.  Most every other lab came back with exceptional readings, but my cortisol levels revealed what I was afraid was true. I was entertaining way too much stress in my life, and my blood work revealed it. You can justify and rationalize most anything. “It’s just the way I am,” “Everybody has a busy life,” “What do I have to complain about?” but when you see the numbers on the page you can be sure that your body is dealing with undue stress. It was a cause for pause. I’ve since re-evaluated, treated my adrenal glands (See our module for details), and perhaps most important, become more conscious of the way I handle life’s day-to-day decisions. I let things go quicker, do more of what I enjoy, and say no thank you to things I don’t want to do. I love to create, and work, and I will always be up to big things. That most likely will never change. How I feel, think, behave and breathe is up for evolution.

If you feel that afternoon drag, or like you’ve been hit by a mac truck late in the day, give some consideration to a little more “self-care.” Take a walk, meditate and re-evaluate the pressures you’re living under. We’re meant to thrive not just survive. Getting your cortisol levels checked can give you great insight to the real story that your body is up against. (Click Here for more information on lab’s to test your stress hormones).  It also can enable you to take action to repair your adrenal glands and give your body a better base line to fight off disease, maintain good energy levels and stabilize your moods. Living life from a balanced state often leads to increased productivity, self-acceptance and paves the road to bliss.

Yours in Health and Bliss,

Amy Beth Hopkins

Amy Beth Hopkins

Amy Beth has her Masters of Physical Therapy degree and Bachelors in Health Science from Loma Linda University. She is the founder of Health and Bliss for Life and online platform for aging well. She also owns Your Personal Best Physical Therapy Clinics in Austin, Tx giving her a unique perspective on the body’s ability to heal. She’s worked as program developer for physical therapy, health entrepreneur, fitness model and spokesperson for Feminine Fitness. Her study of the human potential movement and working with transformational coaches and trainers keeps her tapped into all factors that contribute to living a life full of creative contribution, happiness and fulfillment. She loves seeing others thrive and live life to the fullest, rich in physical, emotional and spiritual health.

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