Disease Loves Stress
We are faced with different types of stress, from physical to mental, every day. Stress is necessary for life, learning, and development–for example, without the stress of gravity, our skeleton and muscles would quickly shrivel away. While we do need stress, we also need plenty of “non-stress time” in our lives, which unfortunately we are often lacking.
Normally, our body’s stress hormones are on “idle” and we are in the “resting and digesting” state. This is where normal body processes take place, like digestion, toxin removal, and growth. But when we face a threat, real or imagined, our stress hormones shoot up, and our body switches to the “fight or flight” response. Our heart rate and breathing speed up, digestion is halted, and blood moves to our muscles to prepare for action. Once the threat is passed, the stress hormones are quickly metabolized (broken down), and we return to back “idle” state, where the “resting and digesting” can occur once again.
For our ancestors, these systems were essential for survival. If we stumbled upon a hungry tiger, our bodies needed to react, either preparing to fight the beast or run away. But the rest of our time, our stress hormones remained in “idle” mode. Today, we no longer live in a world where tigers threaten us. However, our bodies still react to a daily stress like a traffic jam, learning a new language, or a tough workout the same way our ancestors used to respond to a tiger. Our bodies cannot tell the difference between a truly life-threatening event and an unpleasant inconvenience.
Stress is meant to be acute. We are meant to have cortisol in short bursts and then return to baseline, and that has allowed us to survive for thousands of generations. But when cortisol is chronically elevated from constant threats, real or imagined, we never return to that “idle” baseline, where we can get back to resting and digesting. High cortisol levels from things like chronic stress and inadequate sleep disrupt hormone balance and increase inflammation. Increased inflammation leads to illness and disease. Nearly every chronic disease has excess and inappropriate inflammation. And nearly everyone in western society has chronic elevation of their cortisol and excessive inflammation as a result.
High cortisol and stress hormone levels worsen nearly every chronic disease. The most common are:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Mental health problems
- Autoimmune problems of all types
Too many of us are not spending some portion of our days intentionally creating that low stress or “idle” state that is very health promoting. There are thousands of scientific studies that link doing stress-reducing activities to lower cortisol levels, reduction in symptoms, and improved health outcomes. Therefore, it is well worth learning how to do a stress-reducing activity that you enjoy and adding it to your daily routine. Some things you can do to manage and reduce stress include meditation and mindfulness, spending time in nature, journaling, and exercise. These activities allow you to spend more time with your stress hormones in “idle” mode. Ideally, you want to do stress-reducing activities several times a day. But start small if you’re new, beginning with just 2 to 3 minutes at a time throughout the day. It doesn’t matter how small you start, as long as you begin.
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