Posted Pamela Young on 3/23/2015 |Wellness Tips
Through science, we’re realizing that the phrase “can’t handle the pressure” is more accurately applied to our bodies than our minds. When threatened or stressed, our bodies mount a chemical response. Though this response can affect our emotions, it begins and ends in the body. And when our stress response stays activated for long periods, it can affect our physical wellness in serious ways.
The body is intended to respond to stress and then return to routine, balanced functioning. But when stressful events persist or recur frequently, the body is shortchanged the chance to rebalance, and something called allostatic load starts to build. Think of it like what happens to a dryer when the lint trap never gets fully emptied. Over time, the lint continues to build and the dryer works harder and harder to get the job done, eventually running the motor down.
That’s how it is with the body and stress. High allostatic load prevents the body from regaining balance, and the resulting state can grind down our systems. The consequences can range from elevated blood sugar to high blood pressure to a compromised immune system, with each overburdened system making it harder for other systems to function properly as well.
What makes up our individual allostatic load is far from simple. Genetics play a role, as does our outlook and what happens to us in life. Even boredom can add to the load. How we live, what we eat and whether we are active or sedentary are all part of the package.
So what can we do to reduce the load? Here are a few proven tips:
Increase fiber, decrease sugar. Many people reach for starch or sweets when feeling stressed, but the resulting insulin spike can combine with stress hormones in ways that put further stress on the body.
Get consistent exercise and generous rest. Mild to moderate regular exercise can help regulate stress hormones and blood pressure. Adequate sleep is also important for reducing allostatic load.
Make choices that reduce sources of anxiety. Scale back commitments that leave you exhausted or anxious. Look for new ways to view things you cannot change but wish you could. Each reduction can help lower the load.
Cultivate downtime. Seek a few moments of space—each day or following a stressful event—to help your body’s stress responses power down. Breathing is one element of the stress response system that you can consciously affect, so start there with slow, deep and measured breathing.
Strengthen social connections. Studies show that people with more social ties accumulate less allostatic load, making social interaction an important factor in reducing the physical effects of stress. This doesn’t have to mean attending more social functions. The quality of the connections matter more than the quantity.
For additional ideas on how to implement some of these tips, browse the other wellness stories on Remarkable!
We may not be able to remove all stress from our lives. But reducing the level of accumulated load on our system can have a tangible benefit.