- Dr. Jenny Henderson, ND
Why Humans Don't Handle Stress Well
One of the biggest lifestyle issues facing most of us these days is stress. Women and men are pressured to do more and be their best everyday, both at work and at home with our families. Deadlines, projects, meetings, kids, extracurricular activities, home care, aging parents - these are all things that put the average working person on constant high alert.
The human body has evolved to deal with much shorter bursts of intense stress. Our evolutionary ancestors’ bodies used the hormones cortisol and adrenaline to prime our bodies for immediate survival in life-threatening situations (fight or flight). Since then, our society and environment have changed very drastically in a very short amount of time (evolutionarily speaking), but our physiology hasn’t been able to evolve and catch up so fast.
These days, your average chronic stressors last too long, leading to sustained high levels of cortisol. Cortisol, in an attempt to help you survive in the short-term, down-regulates many processes of the body, such as digestion, reproduction, and mood. That’s why during prolonged periods of stress, people tend to develop digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, and depression or anxiety. Things that were never issues before suddenly become problematic when the body is stressed. Weight loss becomes difficult too because cortisol promotes fat accumulation, and puts your body into conservation mode.
Despite the fact that our brains consciously understand that our lives aren’t threatened, the only tools we have to deal with stress are ones that operate on that assumption. The toll that takes on the body and mind is massive.
It is more important than ever to learn how to minimize the effects of stress – essentially send the message that the body is safe enough to lower cortisol and take its pressure off the body’s systems. The best way to do that? Why, to avoid stress altogether of course. You can do that easily, right? Probably not. The next best answer is to make some adjustments to your lifestyle. Schedule regular time off, supplement with herbs called Adaptogens, eat a veggie-heavy diet, spend time in nature, and get regular exercise. Meditation is gaining rapid popularity as a stress-reducing tool that anyone can start practicing now. Here’s a guide to a couple of easy routines.