How can mental stress affect your physical health?


It seems odd, right?

You normally think of your physical health being influenced why what you eat, how much you work out and/or what you put on your body (i.e: skin care, lotions, masks, etc.)

Well, just as your brain tells everything in your body how to work - it can also tell it to temporarily stop working if needed.

Ok, let me explain.

Our body is always in one of two states: a sympathetic (on/stressed) or a parasympathetic (off/relaxed) state.

The sympathetic (on/stressed) state is supposed to be for emergencies. For example, running away from a bear or a murderer (I know, a little extreme, but it gets the point across haha).

In these times, our brain tells our body to produce sugar from any and all stores that we have (meaning breaking it down from protein & fat even!) to give us enough energy to get through this "emergency".

In order for the body to do this, other functions must temporarily pause to allow this process to happen. So what are these "other functions?" They are digestion, detoxification, regeneration, your immune system, etc.

Another thing to keep in mind is that during this adrenalized state, you can't feel much.

So lets go back to our running away from a murderer situation...let's say he has a gun and shoots you in the arm. Well now you go into what most people call "shock" where you sort of feel it, but you're still so focused on getting away from this danger, that you keep on running (you don't really need your arm to run, right?)

It's not until the police and ambulances get there and you can relax because your safe, that you begin to feel the extreme pain in your arm (again, I know this is a dramatic example, but I think it gives you a really good idea of how much the brain can tell our body what to do and/or feel!)

So we can see that in order to really "feel" ourselves, we must be in a parasympathetic (off/relaxed) state.

You might be thinking, well that's a really extreme example and probably won't ever happen to me so I don't think I'll ever enter this "sympathetic" state, Nichole. Ok, fair. Here's an every day (maybe more relatable) example for you:

You wake up in the morning and feel absolutely awful - you must be coming down with something. Maybe it's a stomach bug? The flu? Bad allergies? Either way, there is NO WAY you're going to work today. Well then you get up, hop in the shower, start to begin your day and you think, hmm I'm actually feeling a little better - I think I could go to work.

What's happening here is that as you start moving around and require some energy to do so, your body starts to release some adrenaline (to give you energy). So you start to "feel" yourself less and less.

So you go to work, work through the day (feeling quite good honestly) and then you come home. You cook dinner and then sit on the couch to watch TV. As you're sitting there, relaxing, a sudden wave of sickness comes over you and you're thinking "Woah! I actually feel terrible! How did I work all day today? I'm really sick, I feel worse even! There is no way I'm going to work tomorrow".

So it wasn't until you relaxed (got into a parasympathetic state) that you began to feel how sick you really were. This is why most people say "you always feel worse in the morning and evening".

All that to say, we were meant to be in the sympathetic (on/stressed) state about 20% of the time and in the parasympathetic (relaxed/off) state about 80% of the time. In our cultural today, these numbers are most likely switched, if not 100% of the time being spent in the sympathetic state (stressed state) by some people.

Unfortunately, the body doesn't know how to differentiate a true emergency between running away from a murderer and having a fight with your boss. So you can put yourself in the same adrenalized state just sitting in your cubicle at work as you would running away from a murderer - isn't that insane?!

This all has to do with our brain.

The moment we experience extreme stress (emotional, physical, environmental, etc.) our brain tells our body to produce adrenaline, which produces sugar, because you're in the middle of an "emergency".

So can you see how weight loss might be affected by this as well? That's a whole other topic for a different day though ;)

So a short & sweet analysis for you: stay in tune with yourself throughout the day, every day, to see how you're feeling. What triggers stress for you? Are you stressed out most of the day? If so, you're most likely causing total chaos inside your body! If you're not digesting, regenerating, detoxifying, etc. then your body is really in trouble.

If you're having trouble knowing where to start or what stress can look like, reach out to me and I'd love to walk you through it. I never realized how foundational mental wellness is to our overall health until recently and I'm trying to spread the message as much as I can!

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