When we live with too much stress, too many toxins, too much anger, worry, fear, grief, or too much busy-ness in general, we wreak havoc throughout our bodies and minds, creating extra work for our liver, kidneys, heart, and lungs, flooding the body with glucose and stress hormones.
Chronic stress ultimately weakens the digestive, circulatory, immune, musculoskeletal, and nervous systems, so pretty much every system and organ of the body is disordered by unhealthy, excessive stress.
The most obvious impact of stress is on the adrenals, which are commonly known for their role in releasing stress hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline (and dopamine, which is another reason we can get hooked on stress).
Be aware that adrenal problems may lead to impotency, infertility, menstrual and hormonal complications. Overworked adrenals also destabilize blood sugar levels (hypo- and hyperglycemia) and the bladder and urinary tract.
The Nervous System
Overstimulated adrenals create fear and anxiety by moving us out of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) into the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Through the stress response, functions of the parasympathetic nervous system are down-regulated, including the immune system, and rest and digest functions.
When chronic, this prompts high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, poor digestion, susceptibility to illness, inflammation, panic, restlessness, insomnia, phobias, and nervousness… for starters.
Additionally, when cortisol is created in excess from chronic stress, it reduces the prefrontal cortex of the brain, where we access our intuitive, creative, spiritual, learning, and memory faculties while retracting the brain’s capacity to the amygdala that hosts survival skills, including run! hide! freeze! fight!
This means that under chronic stress, decision-making skills are reduced to mere survival, decreasing any potential for more complex thinking and problem-solving skills. Not only that but stored cortisol actually kills brain cells and neural pathways while hard-wiring the brain to be more susceptible to stress, literally reducing the size of the brain!
Granted, we need healthy stress to develop strength and resiliency. In healthy doses, stress hormones balance each other out, but with chronic stress, the adrenals inevitably struggle to produce cortisol, resulting in adrenal fatigue, while having a never-ending supply of adrenaline.
The result is pure hits of adrenaline without the cooling and anti-inflammatory buffer of cortisol. This is when stress can get ugly: highly irritable, angry, anxious, hot, and toxic.
Give awareness to what triggers stress in you and the sensations, thoughts, and reaction(s) that accompany a stress response.
Begin to notice how you feel in stressful situations or with stressed-out thoughts — what are your thoughts when you’re stressed? Can you feel the glucose that is stored in your muscles when you don’t actually need to run or fight? Can you feel the inflammation? Can you feel your blood pump harder, your heart rate speed up, your body tense up, or the inability to rest and digest properly? Notice how stress increases the risk of catching viruses.
The cycle of running on stress hormones creates a roller-coaster of bursts and crashes of energy, both physically and emotionally. This is the explicit body-mind connection! The mood spikes and plummets. The thoughts that accompany the moods, the highs, and lows of the blood sugar level, run up and down. This is exhausting, and exhilarating, and addictive!
Creativity can burst in the highs and flood from lows. However, as fatigue inevitably increases, the highs don’t feel as high, and the lows get lower and longer, and more persistent. Consequent difficulties surmount — apathy, fear or panic, depression, anger. This depletes being able to feel love, joy, and peace and impacts relationships, outlook on life, overall energy level, vision, purpose, creativity, execution… EVERYTHING!
What to do about it? Begin with… rebelling.
Think about it — inner peace and simple contentment are rebellion.
Lifting above the rat-race, seeking immediate gratification, the sole purpose of pleasure, “hustling,” doing what every other unhealthy person is doing, IS an act of rebellion against the money made off of our illness.
Making art or talking about the society that sickens us while engaging in lifestyles that merely keep us ill isn’t shifting our experience of reality for the greater good.
Not only does chronically flooding the body with stress hormones harm every organ and impact our thoughts, emotions, and moods, but chronic stress is like that toxic relationship that we can’t resist. It lures us with cravings for sh*t that temporarily take the edge off but ultimately make it much, much worse. Here is where we find our “self-medication,” our “fix,” our why-the-hell-can’t-I-stop! pattern of self-sabotaging behavior.
Are you feeling this, how that abundance of stress hormones can trigger a craving for anything from tobacco, caffeine, large amounts of carbs (especially not weighed down with any plant-proteins), alcohol, sugar, to working too much, fixating on social media, spacing out to Netflix, gambling, shopping, sex, or obsessively dieting and/or fasting (typically contrasted with bingeing), or not eating at all?
This is huge, big enough that it’s written about separately for those who are struggling in this way, to find a way out of stress-response and stress-inducing habits. Just so you know, no matter how long it’s been going on or how hard it may feel right now, getting out of stress-cycles IS possible, and wow, life is so much easier on the other side!
Physical Powerhouse Practices
👉🏼 Yin and restorative yoga can feel incredible for the fatigued and exhausted, and for those revved up on stress hormones (i.e., is it challenging to do nothing?) restorative yoga may feel close to impossible. Yet they work wonders in both cases. If resting into yin postures feels excessively irritating, try running/dancing/Vinyasa or this yoga practice before a restorative practice.
👉🏼 Present awareness in meditation is a powerful tool to reduce stress AND change stress patterns in the brain for long-term stress repatterning. Here is a guided meditation to get you started with this.
👉🏼 A simple practice of diaphragmatic breathing signals the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing anxiety and stimulating the immune system that is impaired with high-stress levels.
👉🏼 Elongating exhales to twice the length of inhales stimulates the vagus nerve. This acts as an automatic brake on the sympathetic nervous system, which repairs stress-effects, such as reducing inflammation, strengthening brain-gut communication, and increasing positive emotions and social connection.
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a systemic, and therefore, potent treatment for many health conditions that stem from chronic stress and trauma, which is also practiced in this meditation. This can be practiced at any time, or doubled with…
👉🏼 Viparita Karani, as seen above, is simply lying with your legs up against the wall. Expand the breath into the belly on the inhales to engage diaphragmatic breathing, and allow your exhales to lengthen if you choose, to ease into a meditative state. Remaining present for ten minutes in this posture equals an hour of deep sleep and is highly effective for adrenal restoration, amongst a long list of other health benefits.
👉🏼 EFT tapping is a practice that connects the body-mind and is a powerful tool for releasing emotions and updating limiting beliefs that may accompany emotional pain and distress. Check here to learn more about the EFT practice, and there is a tapping practice guided specifically for chronic stress in the Holistic Liberation Facebook group.
Herbs, Food & Nutrition to Reduce Stress
👉🏼 Supplementing with adaptogens, such as ashwagandha, rhodiola rosea, and ginseng (rather than ginseng soaked in liquids that have sugars), provides amazing support and benefits that are easily felt.
👉🏼 Licorice and dandelion root are powerhouses for the kidneys and adrenals as well, and can be taken as capsules or simply steeped for tea.
👉🏼 Magnesium, Vitamin C, E, and B-Complex are depleted with chronic stress. It’s always best to get vitamins through our food because they’re more easily absorbed and utilized by the body, but when seriously deficient, find a quality supplement (and see a doctor you trust to help guide you, too).
👉🏼 We need healthy gut bacteria for so many reasons! Ensuring a diet with pre- and probiotics helps take off the edge of stress and reduce its damage.
The Ultimate Stress Reducer: Clarifying Vision & Life Purpose
When we run on stress hormones, we literally run on fumes. The body can only keep that up for so long, which ultimately leads to burnout. This may actually come from a need to prove ourselves in ways we think others expect or want from us, to be driven by values that don’t support our health, and the lack of respect for rest, introspection, peace, and quiet.
The most fundamental element to nourishing healthy stress, then, is to allow time for deep restoration (in body and mind), and from that quiet place within feel our life’s purpose. When action falls into place from that purpose, inspiration and motivation are natural. Action is easeful. Life flows. And trust is felt in how life unfolds, exactly as it is, allowing pure acceptance.
Vision of the bigger picture sheds light on each moment, each action, each interaction.
This is the ultimate key to resolving chronic, self-deprecating stress. Stress will never go away — as we now know, we need healthy stress to challenge us to grow and build resilience — so when it arises, it makes sense and is met with clarity that supports the action necessary to fulfill our purpose in life, to ourselves, to our communities, and to the planet.
Jyllin is an integrative health coach and creator of the Holistic Liberation Method that repatterns chronic stress in the body, mind, beliefs, emotions, and lifestyle. Learn more about Jyllin and The Holistic Liberation Programs.