What is Stress and Tips to Manage it

Hi Friends,

I thought I would take some time to write a little about stress.  We all have it…from work stresses, relationship stresses, family stresses, health stresses, to financial stress and more…so what is happening?  Why is it important to manage our stress and how do we go about doing that?

We all have been under an increasing amount of stress.  The pandemic had us worried about jobs, cost of food and goods have increases dramatically which adds financial stress to the mix, family life is demanding (and exhausting), workloads have increased, toxins in our water and food put another type of stress on our bodies, and of course relationships can be stressful as well…to name a few.  Well, a little stress, acute stress, is healthy from time to time as it can help our resilience to future stress, but too much stress is very hard on us physically as well as mentally.  Aneurysms, strokes, high blood pressure and heart attacks are often thought of when talking about chronic stress.  Whether you feel stressed or not, your body is going through this process of reacting to stress. 

So, what happens to our bodies at the cellular level when we have this stress?  Physically, in our bodies, stress can affect our mental health, heart health and risk of aneurism, digestive health, autoimmunity, blood sugar regulation (diabetes risk), as well has metabolism.  You may have heard of the “stress hormone” Cortisol, that hormone that seems to keep people fat or contribute to weight gain around the midsection.  Cortisol is actually meant to be part of an anti-inflammatory process.  We dip low in sugar in our blood stream and our adrenal glands send out epinephrine and cortisol to help raise that blood sugar level so we don’t end up becoming hypoglycemic and possibly end up in a coma.  Our body likes to keep our blood sugar in a nice little range, called homeostasis.  Too high, like when we’ve eaten a sugary sweet, and that’s when more insulin is needed in order to get the glucose out of the blood and into our cells for energy.  Too low and we get shaky, light-headed, and our body tries to compensate by releasing epinephrine, norepinephrine, and the cortisol to bring blood sugar up.  Both of these scenarios are stressful for our body.

Our body will try to protect us in stressful situations by releasing cortisol to give us the energy to run from the tiger our body thinks is chasing us.  This also means that things like digestion and fertility suffer as…well…it’s safer to run from that “tiger” and not be eating or having children.  Now, our bodies don’t know that a looming deadline at work or a fight with a loved one isn’t as serious a physical threat as say being chased by a tiger.  As far as our bodies are concerned, stress is stress and it responds the same.  Ever notice how a dog (and most other animals) just shake it off after a stressful event?  Well, it is just that.  They are in a sense just shaking it off and moving on.  We humans don’t do that though, but we do have ways to combat everyday stresses.

When you are in a perpetual state of stress and cortisol is chronically running high, the anti-inflammatory properties of cortisol actually turn inflammatory.  Think about this.  If you have, let’s say, colitis like I do and are in a state of chronic stress, you notice that your symptoms are exacerbated or flare.  Same can be true for thyroid issues, joint pain, MS, etc.  Getting the idea?  In addition to that, stress can affect sleep (which only compounds the issue) and digestion even in those without colitis or other irritable bowel diseases.  Do you wake up in the middle of the night and wired, especially when under a lot of stress?  Cortisol could be to blame.  Cortisol is the alert/awake hormone which is opposed to Melatonin, and the two tend to rise and fall opposite one another.  Do you get heartburn, indigestion or digestive symptoms like constipation or diarrhea?  Yep, that easily can be stress preventing proper digestion or aggravating a digestive diagnosis.  Not only that, but we are also not properly digesting our foods or absorbing nutrients well when eating in a stressed state.

Did you know that out of balance blood sugar can cause stress on your body too?  Blood sugar imbalance can be a cause and an effect of stress.  As I noted above, cortisol is part of an anti-inflammatory process, but chronic elevated cortisol actually becomes inflammatory.  I hope you can see now how stress affects our bodies and why we need to find healthy ways to combat the stress in our lives.  I can tell you personally how much stress has a physical effect on my body, it’s a vicious cycle.  Stress exacerbates symptoms and you worry about that, which just makes things worse.  One of the many things I implemented in my own journey is stress management practices.  Here are some of my regular stress management tips.

1)  Deep breathing:  There are several breathing techniques, but a simple one is simply to breath in deeply for 4 or 5 counts, then exhale slowly over 8-10 counts.  Do this 10-15 times whenever you are facing a stressful situation.  Deep breathing will calm the nervous system and activate the para-sympathetic nervous system and lower that cortisol.

2)  Exercise:  This can be especially good when running or walking outside in nature, but exercise in and of itself is a good outlet.  Now, keep in mind you need to listen to your body and let it tell you when and what is enough.  I was running three miles three times a week and pushed myself too hard.  I paid for it.  I was at a point where my body just couldn’t do it.  I had to step back and just walk for a while.  My adrenals were taxed and I had to support them before I could start running again.  Overexercise can also be a source of stress for our bodies.

3)  Take a social media break.  The things we read can upset up or be a bit scary and that can activate our sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system.  Remember that your body doesn’t differentiate between news, deadlines, fights, or being chased by a tiger.  Many find it helpful to take a period of time to “unplug” from social media, maybe even just one day a week.

4)  Social time with friends or family.  We are social beings and human connections are vital to our health.  Mentally and psychologically, isolation is hard on us.  During the pandemic, this was prevalent and a major reason why so many people wanted things opened again.  It’s amazing too what a nice chat with a friend can do for your spirits!

5)  Prayer/meditation.  There are various forms of meditation, Guided imagery, mindfulness mediations, Tai Chi and Yoda, prayer, EFT (Tapping) and journaling.  There are a lot of apps out there…Calm, Headspace, Journal, Hallow, The Tapping Solution to name a few.  Give some of these a try!

6)  Focus on sleep.  This is much easier when incorporated with some of the others listed above, but take a look at your sleep hygiene. Keep your bedroom cool enough to be comfortable, turn off electronic devices an hour before sleep, find a wind down routine like reading an actual book (not on a tablet), taking an epsom salt bath, journaling, turning down lights closer to sleep, and even looking into amber glasses that help block out the blue light from harsh lighting and electronic devices that basically tells our body that it’s not sleep time.  And finally, I recommend a consistent bedtime.  Sure, you can try taking melatonin, but I suggest that you try these things first.

Another important note is that a combination of stress reduction techniques will be the most effective.  The best part is that some of these only take a few minutes a day and you can fit them into a busy lifestyle.  What would you add to this list?

In Health

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and the information in this post is not meant to be taken as medical advice.  Please speak to your medical professional if you have medical concerns.


Cortisol. Retrieved from Cortisol: What It Is, Function, Symptoms & Levels (clevelandclinic.org)

Hagmeyer, Dr. Richard (February 25, 2024). The Stress Hormone Cortisol and Blood Sugar. Retrieved from The Stress Hormone Cortisol and Blood Sugar | Dr. Hagmeyer (drhagmeyer.com)

Hannibal, Kara E and Mark D. Bishop (July 17, 2024). Chronic Stress, Cortisol Dysfunction, and Pain: A Psychoneuroendocrine Rationale for Stress Management in Pain Rehabilitation. Retrieved from Chronic Stress, Cortisol Dysfunction, and Pain: A Psychoneuroendocrine Rationale for Stress Management in Pain Rehabilitation – PMC (nih.gov)

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