STRESS – a self imposed modern day epidemic ?

STRESS  – one of most commonly used words in relation to ill health

Did you know that more than 75% of all visits to doctor’s surgeries are due to stress and various related disorders and ailments, and that Stress is directly responsible for 10.8 million days taken as sick leave. Almost all illness

  • Causes stress
  • Is Caused by stress
  • Is Aggravated by stress

Stress is also the number 1 reason why people often

  • Eat badly
  • Choose unhealthy lifestyles
  • Rely on alcohol, cigarettes and recreational drugs

So it’s a bit chicken and egg – which comes first? the unhealthy lifestyle or the stressful situations? 

Here are some definitions so we know what we are talking about.

Stress: the body’s reaction to any demand which requires a physical, psychological or emotional adjustment or response
Stressor: anything that creates a demand which knocks the body out of homeostatic balance. A physical, emotional or psychological demand which requires a response from the body
Stress-response: the body’s response as it tries to re-establish homeostasis.

The world has changed rapidly during 20th century:

–   at the beginning of the 20th century 60% of deaths were due to infectious and transmissible diseases
–   at the end of the 20th century more than 60% of deaths were due to ‘lifestyle’ diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and strokes.

Our society has undergone rapid and far reaching social change in a very short time, and changes in our diets and lifestyle have evolved faster than our genetic make- up can cope with.  Many natural foods contain anti-stress nutrients, (vitamins, minerals and phyto-chemicals), but changes in our  lifestyle and diet have encouraged a huge increase in the consumption of sweet, nutrient deficient, calorie dense foods. Excess sugar , caffeine  and other ‘stress’ foods send ‘alarm’ signals to the body which then initiate the stress response. We simply do not eat enough foods containing the ‘relax, be happy ‘ messages.

“We are a unique species – we have the ability to worry about and fear unknown future events”

“Humans can get stressed simply due to a thought”

Our lives are filled with unpredictable ups and downs that inevitably produce some form of stress. We have let our modern day lives get very demanding. For example;

  • We are always on call
  • We have constant and instant access to work and people via, email, mobile phones, tablets, social media. How many of us are ‘unplugged’ from our communication devices for any length of time? Can you resist just taking a peek at that text or email that just arrived?
  • We tend to have much less down time and periods of relaxation, there is always something that we need to get done.
  • We live in a ‘have it all’ society with much greater choices and higher self and life expectations.

When short lived, and supported by healthy mind and body, any short term metabolic response is both normal and vital to survival. Now, some things such as life threatening events, loss of a loved one, or  imminent danger will always elicit the stress response. Other situations are more personal and subjective – what may be stressful to one person will not affect another. Our past experiences and historic reactions and behaviours will affect our perceptions of stress. We are all unique.

When faced with chronic stress, the prolonged activation of your body’s physiological response can disrupt the  structure of your brain and other organ systems and will therefore increase the risk of stress related illness and cognitive impairment. If children are subject to a lot of stressors early in life before their brain is fully developed, (which happens to be their mid 20s!), then the effects are going to run much deeper. When the stress response occurs continuously, or has multiple triggers, it will have a cumulative toll on your physical and mental health – often for a lifetime!

So ask yourself “Why do we keep maintaining our stressful lives?”