The Stress Series: Stress Three –

Physical stress

As I’ve already mentioned, there are some forms of stress which are good for us and physical stress can be one of those.  We all know of the benefits of physical exercise which of course in moderation can negate the physical stress that results from being under active.

The other kind of physical stress can result from doing too much exercise.  Have you ever heard of someone being a gym junkie or an adrenalin junkie or of such a thing as a runner’s high?  These terms all relate to feelings of euphoria that come from endorphins being released into the system when people participate in  extreme sports such as bungy jumping or sky-diving or when they do physical exercise.  But as with many other activities that involve endorphin release, as time goes on gradually longer periods of the activity at a higher intensity are required in order to experience the same result.  In short, physical stress can manifest from participating in either too much as opposed to too little exercise.

How do I minimise the effect of physical stress?

If you are thinking that you may not be active enough, I believe the minimum amount of exercise thats recommended to maintain physical fitness is 3 x 30 minute sessions a week.  The most basic and cheapest way you can exercise is by simply walking.  If you are unable to fit in 30 minutes in one go, 2 lots of 15 minutes or even 3 of 10 at different times of the day is fine.  Planning your exercise routine for the morning has obvious benefits including energising you for the day and getting it done and out of the way.

If you are unsure if you might be placing your body under too much physical stress, a good way to gauge this is by thinking about how you respond emotionally to your exercise routine.  Do you feel agitated if you aren’t able to exercise or if you miss more than a day or two in a row?  Do others ever comment that your exercising is excessive?  Do you ever lie about exercising to those close to you?  Does it interfere with other important aspects of your life, such as caring for children or your work?

If you answered yes to any of the above in this last paragraph then you might want to consider implementing some strategies to reduce your exercise for a while so that you place your body under less physical stress because side effects of this form of stress include illness, in the worst of cases chronic injury, adrenal fatigue and chronic fatigue.

Tomorrow we will look at what is probably known as the most common source of stress being mental of psychic stress.

The Stress Series: Stress Two –

Chemical Stress

Along the same lines but different to the way it enters our bodies, chemical stress refers again to the stress that is caused by foreign chemicals entering our bodies and the work that our systems go through in an attempt to remove the associated toxins.  As I mentioned in ‘Stress One – Nutritional Stress,’ some of this stress can come from eating highly processed food.  Other ways that our bodies become stressed by chemical exposure include:

– through the air we breathe, ie pollution (and this includes being a smoker or living with a smoker)

– through drinking contaminated water

– beauty products

I read a fascinating article not so long ago that described the chemical stress that mainly women (but also to an extent men) inadvertently put their systems through during the very first hour after waking in the morning whilst getting ready for the day.  And when you think about it its easy to see how.  Many of us get up and generally shower, right?  And in our shower we may use soaps, shampoos, conditioners, body buffers, and shaving creams.  And then when we get out of the shower we might use moisturisers, deodorants, hair spary, gel, mousse or other hair products.  We might also apply perfume or aftershave if we are that way inclined.  Then for women who wear make-up might come the application of a range of anti-ageing products (which could include the application of various cleansers, toners, moisturisers and well as anti-wrinkle, anti-dark-shadow, anti-blemish products).  Upon this might then be layered the make-up which may include but is not limited to foundation, powder, blush, various and numerous eye shadows and liners, mascara and a range of  sticks and glosses for the lips.  All these chemicals are absorbed by the skin in the name of looking younger and denying the natural process of ageing as the majority of us have fallen smack bang into the traps set by multi-million cosmetic companies who play on our insecurities about the natural process of ageing and make billions of dollars every year as a result.

Now let’s do the maths.  Even if each product contained only ten chemicals (and that’s an extremely conservative estimate) the application of less than half of the products I’ve mentioned above alone comes to a staggering 130 chemicals which are absorbed subdermally (through the skin) to enter our blood streams before we even leave the house!!.  In a similar process that occurs to the chemicals we ingest through eating food, our body is put under stress when these toxins are removed through processes that need to occur on a cellular level so that they can eventually be eliminated.

How can I reduce chemical stress?

I acknowledge living in cities and with so many products (including water) being so heavily packaged it can might seem like there’s no-where to go with this one.  If you feel this way then my suggestion is to make small changes, after all they will accumulate and are better than none at all.  In addition to moving from highly polluted cities to the countryside (which I understand isn’t always an option) there are a number of ways you can reduce your chemical stress which include:

– stop smoking or insist that all smokers smoke as far away as possible from your home

– drink filtered water

– use natural alternatives to regular beauty products (naturally occurring oils such as almond oil, black sesame oil  and rosehip oil are all fabulous alternatives to other moisturisers)

– avoid wearing make-up (or when this isn’t an option try to use those which are derived from plant sources)

– avoid colouring your hair (or again use naturally derived dyes such as henna)

– use soaps and cleansers that are not only plant and oil based but good for the environment too (this includes household cleaners like dishwashing liquid and clothes washing detergent)

What changes do you think you could make in this area?  Or does the whole thought of it just seem to stress you out?  Stay tuned…tomorrow we’ll be looking at the causes and what you can do to mitigate the effects of physical stress in your life.

The Stress Series: Stress One –

Nutritional stress

Before reading the posts I write about this stress this week I want you to take a moment to change the way you think about yourself.  Instead of thinking about yourself as a man or a woman, a husband or a wife, a teacher, a friend, a sister or a grandparent I want you to remember that underneath all of that you are actually an animal.  And as an animal there are many aspects of our modern lives that we as humans are exposed to that interfere and mess with our natural way of functioning and processing the stimuli we are exposed to.

So thinking in that animal frame, let us now think about nutrition (notice nutrition as opposed to diet).  Think about most of the food we consume and if you’re not sure where to start with that, think about what might be in your staffroom or what you had for lunch today.  You won’t be looking far to realise that the majority of it is highly processed and to an extent that includes foods we might usually think are ‘fresh’ (including fruits, vegetables and meat).  If you’re not sure how on earth these ‘fresh’ food might be processed just ponder for a moment how pesticides and hormones might affect the chemical make-up of the food we consume and ingest.

We know that digestion is a complex chemical process that involves the compounds in our food being broken down and either converted and used by the body as energy or stored as fat.  We know many foods are beneficial to our wellbeing as they are rich in vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants (the goodies that ‘eat’ the baddies known as free-radicals which are the waste produced from the chemical processes that occur when we’re stressed) and good fats.  These ‘clean’ foods are easy for our animal systems to digest and break down, process and eliminate from our systems.

Foods that are highly processed and high in sugar, bad fat, chemicals like additives additives and preservatives can be toxic to our systems.  Although they can usually be broken down and eliminated from our bodies, they are foreign to our systems and require extra energy and chemical processing to remove.  The higher our consumption of these foods, the harder our bodies have to work and the more stress they are under in order to maintain an internal state of equilibrium.

How can I reduce nutritional stress?

There’s a number of relatively simple things one can do to reduce the amount of nutritional stress they place on their body.  The most obvious is to eat less food that is highly processed and to minimise the consumption of bad fats, added chemicals and preservatives, salt and sugar altogether.

One of the best things you can do to reduce your nutritional stress is to buy free-range, organic and/or bio-dynamic food.  People often complain that this food is more expensive than regular food and there is no denying it often is.  The reason for this is because it requires so much more care than regular food (no pesticides around to stop it from being eaten by little critters) and because it is considered exclusive (because its expensive its not so readily available).  But this isn’t always so, and cases in which the price of free range, organic, biodynamic or low spray produce is comparable (if not cheaper) than regular produce include:

–      going to Farmers Markets.  In Adelaide the Adelaide Showgrounds Farmers Markets (on Sundays from 9-1 on Leader St) and the Willunga Farmers Markets (Saturdays, same time) are excellent.  For those not in Adelaide, Farmers Markets are everywhere, just use the net to find your closest.

–  In supermarkets.  Next time you’re getting your milk compare the prices between regular and organic milk.  Not with the homebrand $1 a litre special but with your regular brand.  Notice the difference.  Is it huge?  Is it worth the extra few cents (if it happens to be dearer) to pay for something that’s 100% milk and not from animals that are pumped full of hormone?  Organic meat is also becoming increasingly popular in supermarkets and I notice the price of it is often slashed when it is still many days before use by.

In regards to buying free-range, organic or biodynamic food remember the standard economic principle of the greater the demand of an item, the lower its price will be.  The more people who buy unprocessed food will result in it becoming more readily available and cheaper.  And if the difference in price still bothers you, I wonder does it still seems such a big deal when you consider it an investment towards your health and wellbeing?  After watching 4 Corners last night, I wonder how many parents of children on the autistic spectrum would have forked out that money to buy bread without that preservative E280 if they had known the potential side effects some research is saying it has.

I hope this has provided you with some food for thought.  Tomorrow I will be posting about chemical stress which in a way is linked to nutritional stress but can occur in more ways than simply digestion.

The Stress Series

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Photo courtesy stock.xchng – “The Stress!!!!”

Understanding Stress:

It’s a funny thing stress.  Without it we couldn’t survive – our hearts wouldn’t beat and basically we’d die.  And there’s some kinds of positive stress too, like the high you get after exercising or the buzz associated with watching team sports.  A certain level of stress can actually improve our performance too and give us the kick we need to perform well during an exam or when competing in an event of our own.

What exactly is stress?

The stress process is the result of a complicated series of subconscious chemical responses that occur within our systems.  To simplify, when we are under  threat (whether this is actual or perceived, conscious or subconscious, it doesn’t matter) our body released adrenalin into our systems.  This surge of adrenalin is required to activate our fight or flight responses which we still have imprinted in our genetic systems from the time when we lived in caves and ate (and were eaten by!) sabre toothed tigers.

When in fight or flight a number of things may happen which may include losing the ability to think clearly and rationally.  Blood is taken from the extremities and concentrates on pumping blood to our vital organs.  Our heart and respiration rates may quicken and we may feel a sudden rush of energy.  We may find ourselves sweating profusely, feeling very flushed and our mouth getting dry.  Our hearing and sense of smell and sight may suddenly become extremely sharp.  We often hear of amazing things happening when people are in this fight or flight response state, such as 80 year old gramdmas who can barely walk scaling and clearing 6 foot fences when they have been chased by an intruder.

Again, this fight or flight response has its advantages and is an instinctive way our bodies respond in the face of danger.  But what can happen to our systems is they can react in these ways when such drastic responses aren’t required.  Sometimes this fight or flight response will be tripped and we may experience the effects of an adrenalin surge for no apparent reason.  A thudding chest, increased respiration, sweaty palms and confusion (to name a few of the symptoms) can present as a panic attack and can be extremely frightening to someone who doesn’t realise what is happening.  Milder responses are difinitive of anxiety and in more serious cases can lead to avoidance behaviours including compulsions as typically found in people diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD).  Another outcomes of too much real or perceived stress can include our systems not being able to produce enough adrenalin to pump through our systems to manage the actual or perceived stresses our bodies react to.  In these cases a diagnosis of adrenal fatigue or chronic fatigue syndrome may be given.  I know of principals and teachers who have received such diagnoses.

Cortisol is the hormone that is released after the surge of adrenalin leaves the adrenals and basically counters its effects, reducing it to a normal level in our bodies.  It takes about 45 minutes for this evening out to occur which is why we may feel shaky for several minutes after an interaction with an aggressive child or parent or after a near miss with another vehicle.  You may have seen reports of cortisol being measured by taking saliva swabs and because this collection method is so non-invasive it can be easily measured in samples of all ages, including babies.  What we know about cortisol is that measurements of it will be high in individuals who experience a lot of stress and this includes babies and children who are neglected and/or exposed to trauma.

What people often think about when they think about stress is in relation to the mental or emotional overwhelm associated with encountering situations which are challenging and difficult to handle.  Although mental and psychic stress is a category of stress, did you know that there are actually 6 different categories of stress overall?  They are:

1.  Nutritional stress

2.  Chemical stress

3.  Physical stress

4.  Mental and psychic stress

5.  Electromagnetic stress

6.  Thermal stress

Starting tomorrow and every day this week I will blog about one of these categories, give details of its features and provide information about how to best reduce this type and consequently your overall levels of stress.  By reducing your overall stress levels I anticipate 2 benefits to occur, the first being a decline in overall stress levels (which we may not even be unaware we are experiencing) and the second being an increased ability to manage category 4, mental and psychic stress.

I’m interested to hear what you think of this series on stress – feel free to leave me replies below.