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What Is Stress Doing To You?

Everyday we use or hear the phrases “I’m so stressed” or “my ____ is so stressful” (fill in job, life, kid, etc), but what exactly is stress? 
 Stress is subjective, meaning what is "stressful" to one person may not be to another. We also know that the effects of acute stress are different from the effects of chronic stress. Acute stress is often actually a good thing. At a primal level, activation of the acute stress response helps us focus, keeps us alert, and is at the core of our survival instincts.

One example of how acute stress works for us today is during exercise, which kicks into the "fight or flight" response that gets our heart rate going, increases blood pressure and respiration, and recruits blood to our muscles for a relatively short period of time. Typically we exercise for a couple hours max, but imagine running daily marathons with no rest days--what would this do to our bodies? Eventually we would crash hard, mentally and physically. Unfortunately, this is what is happening to many of us in North America, and what leads to the chronic stress response.

The effects of chronic stress comes from constant stimulation of the "fight or flight" response. Chronic stressors these days comes from the combination of work + family + finances + school + friends + whatever else. We are constantly rushing from one meeting or appointment to the next, not eating or sleeping well, and then ignoring the signs that we need a break. Maybe for some of us, work/school/etc is like a 10 hour "marathon" every single day with no finish line in sight. This is where stress-related illness rears its ugly head.

Here are some ways that stress may be expressed:

  • Fatigue

  • Sleep disturbances (too many things on your mind, or your body can't relax)

  • Digestive issues like constipation or diarrhea or both ("rest and digest" response requires the "fight or flight" response to quiet down)

  • Emotional lability (ie. grumpy all the time or cry at the drop of a dime)

  • Constantly worrying or feelings of anxiety (butterflies in your stomach, heart beating out of your chest, etc)

  • Inability to concentrate or poor memory

  • Frequent colds/flus (your immune system becomes compromised)

Perhaps these symptoms are things you feel you can "deal with" for the time being. However, by continuing to ignore the earlier signs, you may start to develop (or worsen) conditions that affect several systems, including:

  • Mental health concerns: depression, anxiety

  • Cardiovascular/respiratory: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, angina, other heart diseases, migraines

  • Endocrine: diabetes, adrenal fatigue, hypothyroid, hyperthyroid

  • Skin: eczema, cold sores

  • Digestion: irritable bowel syndrome

  • Musculoskeletal: chronic pain (ie. fibromyalgia), tension headaches, poor muscle recovery, tight/tense muscles

  • Immune: autoimmune conditions, frequent or nagging colds/flus

To sum it all up, stress is inevitable and sometimes necessary for relatively short periods of time. However, as soon as you start to see some of those signs listed above, it's time to consider things that will help to manage your stress.

Think it's time to finally start dealing with the real cause of your symptoms? Contact Dr.Cho!

Naturopath Toronto, North York naturopath, Dr. Christine Cho ND, naturopathic doctor, stress management

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