What is Stress?
Today the word “stress” has gotten a bad rap, mostly due to the excessive amounts of it we are experiencing. You see, stress in and of itself is not bad—we actually need certain amounts of stress to maintain health. In fact, removing stress all together would be unhealthy! Life in itself is dualistic; we need both good and bad to understand the other. In other words, health is about balance. To achieve the correct balance we first have to become aware of the types of stress we're dealing with. According to science there are six primary stressors:
- Physical stress: The good physical stress is exercise and movement. Regular exercise counteracts the loss of muscle mass and bone density that naturally occurs. Exercise builds resilience in your body if you will, much like a callus grows on your hand to toughen the skin to handle higher amounts of stress. The bad in physical stress would be, of course, that derived from injury: accidents and over-exercising. Excessive exercise suppresses immune function by elevating cortisol for extended periods of time. Also, poor posture, a result of too much or too little exercise, can cause poor breathing, muscle function, circulation, and organ function.
- Chemical stress: The types of good chemical stress come from our body’s release of chemicals like neurotransmitters, which are necessary for health. For example, digestion is a stress that produces chemical stress release. When we consume carbohydrates, the body produces serotonin, a brain chemical. Serotonin nourishes our nervous system. The bad chemical stress comes from, you guessed it, chemicals. Synthetic chemicals found in drugs, medications, aspirin, and agricultural chemicals like pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. The detoxification system in the body is over-burdened by these unnatural chemicals and can stress the body to the point of disease!
- Electromagnetic stress: The good stressors from magnetic forces come from natural sources, sunlight and the electromagnetic field in the earth being most predominant. Without these we would die! They grow our food, balance our hormones, energize and ground us. They are perhaps the best type of stress for us. This is why sleep, sun, and nature are so efficient at making us feel better. The bad electromagnetic stressors are overexposure to sun, sunburn, radiation, even computers, cell phones, and other electrical devices. The heat from a cell phone can burn eyes; their screens burn our eyes and all in all bake our nervous system. Best to use technological devices efficiently and moderately. You can also practice media fasts, a day a week of zero media and devices associated.
- Psychic or Mental stress: The signs of good mental stress include using the mind to achieve worthy goals, become stronger, more loving, compassionate, and conscious. Other signs may be overcoming obstacles, learning new skills, and seeking fulfillment or excellence. The bad mental stress is what we all associate and are familiar with: negativity, worry, depression, and limited beliefs. Basically, you are not using your mind, it is using you.
- Nutritional stress: Good nutritional stress is representative of eating organic, whole, and real food, eating foods that best work with your unique body and eating enough. The “stress” from nutrition boils down to the digestive process. It takes energy, a lot of energy, to digest our food. The stress comes from metabolizing the food and using its energy as your own, extracting the nutrients and assimilating them into the body are also a healthy stress for the body. The healthy stress is correlated with a higher return ratio of energy to the amount of energy it takes to obtain that energy. In simpler terms, when you eat the right foods in the right amounts and digestion of that food is optimal, you will gain a much larger benefit than the price you paid. The bad signs of nutritional stress are eating processed, dead, and nutritionally empty foods, eating too much or too little, eating the wrong combinations of food, and eating foods that don’t digest well in your unique body. Any form of bad nutritional stress comes down to eating something that is taking more energy from you than you are gaining from the food. That is why processed foods are so stressful on the body. They are incredibly hard to digest, taking up a lot of our life force energy, and have little to no nutrition in them, putting us in a deficit nutritionally and energetically.
- Thermal stress: Keeping our body temperature at its desired 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is of course the most obvious type of good thermal stress. When the body temperature fluctuates too much outside of this point, the thermoregulatory system becomes stressed. The body has to draw its energy stores and release stress hormones to keep us balanced. Also, much like exercise, a little bit of stress on the body’s temperature is actually good. Being exposed to cold, like cold showers, actually helps regulate cortisol levels and provides us with a healthy energy. Anything that burns the body is an unhealthy form of thermal stress. Additionally, putting the body in extreme cold temperatures for too long is also unhealthy and runs the risk of hypothermia.
Internal and External Stress
The six different types of stress just explained can be chunked down into two primary types of stress: internal and external.
- External: These are stresses that occur from the outside: sunlight, physical pain such as injury and external force, emotional trauma, or environmental toxins and chemicals.
- Internal: These are stressors that occur inside of the body, often a reaction to external stress. For example, an external stress may be nutritional, such as a poor diet. The result is an internal stress response, such as disease. Another example would be a toxic relationship. Relationships are external and can have good stressors like sex, love, excitement, and happiness and this will trigger healthy internal responses. Long term toxic relationships can also cause a chronic stress response which can lead to disease and imbalance over time.
As you can see, stress comes from multiple areas. Most of us have used the phrase “I’m stressed,” and are typically associating it with mental and emotional stress. We have an idea that we’re stressed but not quite sure where it’s really coming from; is it sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, toxic relationships, disease and imbalance in the body, or overexposure to thermal and magnetic stress? Finding out the source of our stress is key to achieving balance in the nervous system. The idea is that the more stress your body is under, the more stress hormones it will produce. When the body is over-burdened by too much stress from external or internal reasons, eventually it has no time to produce adequate levels of repair hormones to keep the body healthy and rebuild it. If we approach stress from a one-sized fits all approach we might overlook how our unique lifestyle is creating our stress load. Below I will share a few tips to balance these stressors from a holistic approach.
- Identify Your Primary Stressor: Like I said, if you don’t know the primary stressor in your life, you may easily end up in therapy working to balance out emotions that are really a result of a hormonal imbalance that came from poor nutrition or exposure to toxic chemicals. Likewise, many people spend too much time focusing on eating a healthy diet to balance their health and pay no mind to their toxic relationships, unfulfilling work, and suppressed emotions. Generally, our most primal needs are that of security, sustenance, and sex. If these are not being met, we can easily feel stressed and in a chronic state of stress. Going about obtaining security in a healthy fashion is of upmost importance. For example, seeking spiritual security through meditation may be a much healthier way for achieving the ultimate security. Once you have alleviated your primary stressor it will have a domino effect on your health for the better. Get real with yourself and find out what you most need. Chances are there is one primary cause of your stress that is being avoided; if you handle it, the rest of you will fall into place.
- Make a Plan: Get a bit realistic with how you will address your biggest stressor. Set some short-term goals that are achievable. Chances are you feel out of control of your biggest stress, which is an illusion. Start proving to yourself that you are ultimately in control with some simple steps. Look for some books, online material, audio tapes, or ask someone you look up to for some advice. Start with what’s free and obtainable and you will attract more success.
- Eat and Drink Right: Back to internal and external stressors, remember: the internal stressors only serve to magnify the external stressors. Meaning, regardless of what your primary stressor may be, if you are not eating or drinking right your body will not have the fuel (hormones, nutrients, etc.) it needs to rebuild, causing only more stress on the body. Figure out your metabolic type, learn to be intuitive about your eating by paying attention to what foods make you feel healthy and good and eating more of those and ditching the life sucking ones. Get rid of toxic foods, the chemicals in processed foods cause emotional and mental dysfunction. Eating right is without doubt the foundation to building the energy you will need to tackle your more complex stressors: finances, emotions, traumas, etc.
- Move, Breathe, and Exercise: Moving your body is the number one most misused anti-stress medicine. We have become dependent on pills and junk food to change our emotional state, which only brings us more into debt with stress and even money. Walking and breathing is free and has an immediate impact on your health for the better. Find an exercise program that works for you. Change it up constantly. Exercise does not have to be strategic or programmatic. You can walk, dance, run, skip, act like a monkey, play with your kids, walk a dog, climb a tree, do yoga, garden, sprint, and the list goes on. Whatever you can do to move the body in new and exciting ways will stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and release feel good hormones and endorphins. It’s so important to feel good, especially when considering tackling a project like rebuilding our health and happiness. If you don’t exercise for your health, at least do it for your happiness. After all, it’s our life duty to feel joy!
- Mental Exercises: You are the creator of your world. What you feel, you attract into your life. If you feel like crap you will bring more crap into your life. If there is one thing you can do for your life to better it, it is this: change the thoughts you think and the words you speak. You might have a struggle with exercise and diet at first, but the one thing you have control of is your thoughts. It will take some effort at first, just like the diet and exercise. But connecting to your most harmonious thoughts is the one thing that will never elude you. Our thoughts control our actions, and for the most part you have not been controlling your thoughts! What a waste! It’s so simple—start observing the thoughts your mind feeds you and start ignoring them when they are coming from fear, anxiety, and anything negative. Your thoughts are not you, but you can use them to serve you. Meditation is one of the best ways to take control of your thoughts, you learn to witness them and silence the mind, and best of all it is totally free. Just sit and be. There are tons of resources for reprogramming your subconscious mind though if you need help. Anthony Robbins, Jim Rohn, Jack Canfield, Brian Tracey, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, and many more are leaders in this stuff and offer tons of free resources. I recommend picking up a few good reads by them or attending a seminar. It’s not the end but it’s a start.