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Did you know…your body defines stress differently than you do?

What is your definition of stress?

Many would describe stress as tight deadlines, heated arguments, or traffic jams, but it’s important to understand that stress is anything that makes the body work overtime to re-establish balance. Just like many of us strive to find the optimal work-life balance so we feel at ease, the body is constantly seeking a similar equilibrium so that it can function most efficiently.  The more we do to throw it off balance, the harder we make the body work, and the more stress it (and you) is under. 

Take dieting, for example. Your body needs a certain level of carbohydrates, fat and protein to function optimally. If you aren’t giving it what it needs, then you’re putting it under stress, just like you might be stressed if you were asked to complete a project but weren’t given enough resources or time to finish it successfully.

How does stress work? When you’re under stress (whether real or perceived), your body thinks your life is at risk, so it reacts by protecting you and prioritizing any processes that will keep you alive and de-prioritizing any processes that it deems unnecessary in your survival. The response starts in the brain, where a cascade of hormones begins to flood your body. Eventually, cortisol, the primary stress hormone is released from the adrenal glands, triggering multiple reactions in the body: your heart starts to pound and blood pressure increases (to send oxygen and blood to your muscles so you can fight or flee from your threat), various tissues are broken down into glucose, increasing blood sugar levels (so your body has energy to fight or flee); pupils dilate (so you can see your threat more clearly); digestion slows (because when you’re running for your life, eating is not a priority). Anything that is not urgent (reproduction, immune function, growth and tissue repair) gets put on the back burner. Acute, short term stress can be a good thing, helping us gain clarity and act quickly; however, chronic stress and the resulting overexposure to cortisol can lead to a number of hormone imbalances, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, weight gain and more serious health issues.

Firstly, most people think stress is negative, uncontrollable, unmanageable. However, when it comes to emotional stress, our perception of that “threat” is a critical factor in determining the impact on the body. A little bit of stress is actually a good thing and can help us get things done urgently. If we can view this stress as a little bit of gas on a fire to get things done, then we and our bodies won’t overreact.

The problems start when are consistently overwhelmed and end up with chronically elevated stress hormones that can put our health at risk. Secondly, people think “stress” only applies to emotional or psychosocial stresses like conflicts, finances or life-altering events, when really the body has the same reaction when you’re dieting (restricting food groups or skipping meals), dehydrated, sleep deprived, exercising too much (or too little), eating poorly or exposed to screens too often (to name a few).

By Nicole Porter
Nicole Porter is a Stress Coach and Wellness Educator helping busy, stressed out professionals mindfully overcome the Top 10 Unhealthy Habits preventing optimal health, mindset and productivity. She is also a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Registered Nutritional Therapist, Healthy Weight Loss Coach, and Pilates Coach with a background in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Behaviour Change.


Nicole Porter Wellness

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