Stress is something we all experience… it’s a part of everyday life.
Stress can be beneficial… but if its long term or constant, stress can result in negative consequences in the body.
In this post, we’ll explore some of the ways that stress can affect our brain and body… and what we can do about it.
But first, what is stress?
Stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires a response from a certain stressor.
Stressors can be:
- Physical: like exercise, injuries, food irritants, lack of sleep
- Emotional or psychological: like worrying, catastrophising, dwelling, having a baby, getting married
- Chemical: like bee stings, smoking, pollution, skincare ingredients
The body reacts to these stressors with physical, mental, and emotional responses
So what does this do to our body?
When we experience a stressor our body responds by producing compounds like adrenaline and cortisol.
This gives rise to our fight or flight response.
Traditionally, these stressors would have been predators or warring with other tribes.
These days, our stressors are often more mundane – our work, family, partner, social pressures, isolation even loneliness.
Not as life or death as our caveman ancestors… but our body still views the threat in the same way.
And what does this do to our skin?
Stress and exhaustion can be ‘written all over our faces’…
- Lack of sleep is a stressor. And when we don’t sleep well, we can get dark circles under our eyes and fine lines look deeper
- Stress activates immune cells in the skin. Which can flare up inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and rosacea.
- Excess cortisol and testosterone can drive oil production leading to oily skin and acne breakouts.
- Cortisol increases our blood sugar levels. And excess blood sugar damages collagen leading to increased fine lines and wrinkles
- Cortisol can give rise to skin tags
- Adrenaline can cause skin flushing
- Fear can constrict blood vessels and cause your skin to look pale “like you’ve seen a ghost”
- Worry can ‘wear’ in frown lines
I like to think of stress in 3 different categories… positive, tolerable and toxic
#1 Positive Stress
This is when there’s a stressor, but it usually has an end date.
Think studying for exams, going on a date, having an interview, a tough exercise class or reaching a work deadline.
You ‘rise’ to the occasion.
For example – if you’re holding a glass of water, but you know you only need to hold it for an hour, it can become a challenge.
#2 Tolerable Stress
These stressors are more severe, frequent or sustained.
Like the death of a loved one, a divorce, a long work project or recovering from injury.
A strong physical and mental foundation, with strong support networks can make all the difference.
So even though you might feel this stress deeply, once some time has passed, you’re able to fully recover.
So, you’re still holding that glass of water… but if you’re physically strong or have people to help you hold it, you can hold it for longer and recover more easily.
Our ability to tolerate and recover is influenced by our:
- socio economic status
- past traumas
- childhood events
- our diet
- how much we exercise
- other conditions…
You’ll also find the suggestions below helpful for building your ability to tolerate and recover from this kind of stress
#3 Toxic Stress
These stressors are normally tolerable, but without that strong foundation.
This situation results in prolonged activation of the stress response.
So, you’re still holding that glass of water… but you’re not strong enough to continue holding it. You don’t have help and support to hold it, you can’t stop thinking about how heavy it is… and you don’t know when you’ll be able to put it down.
Stress in an acute or positive way, is vital for our adaptation & survival.
But, the problem lies with untreated chronic, toxic stress.
This kind of stress can contribute to disease, dysfunction and metabolic changes.
Which might result in:
- weight gain
- muscle pain
- high blood pressure
- weakened immune system
The Effect of Toxic Stress on the Brain
Chronic stress also has an impact on our brain function and capacity.
It’s been shown to shrink our hippocampus (our memory centre).
And to also shrink our prefrontal cortex (which is our rationalisation centre).
Think when you’re stressed… you’re more likely to have ‘brain fog’ and forget where you put your keys.
Or you might get frustrated over things that might not ordinarily frustrate you.
…and you can’t work out a strategy that will allow you to put your glass of water down.
Chronic stress also enlarges our amygdala (our lizard brain or primal brain)
This part of the brain handles our perception of fear.
So little things are more likely to push your fear and worry buttons, prolonging the fight flight response.
…an extra drop of water in your glass, pushes you over the edge and you’re scared about what will happen next.
Which means it’s super important to equip yourself with the right tools.
Tools that will enable you to recover and build resilience to chronic and toxic stress
Some Suggestions For Your Stress Busting Tool Kit
- Take a yoga class or find an online yoga video and follow along
- Move your body… in whatever way you enjoy, get your heart rate up
- Grab some boxing gloves and take a boxing class
- Go for a walk
- Spend some time in nature – sitting, walking, swimming, enjoying
- Listen to music you find uplifting or energising
- Dance your heart out
- Sing along…
- Create something – draw, paint, build, cook, craft
- Get out in the garden
- Sit in the sun for while – maybe eat your lunch outside (remember to take your sunscreen)
- Taking your shoes and socks off and ‘grounding yourself’ on the earth
- Go fishing
- Take a nap
- Make your self a rainbow snack or meal of fresh fruit and veggies
- Float (a Crystal favourite)
- Take a bath with some candles and Epsom salts – try our Replenishing Mineral Bath Salts
- See your local naturopath from some helpful and restorative herbs
- Experience a sound bath
- Mindful drawing (like Zentangle) or mindful colouring
- Catching up with friends and family
- Calling a close friend for a chat
- Gratitude journalling
- Be kind to yourself – override that internal negative critic and ask yourself what would be helpful right now
- Consider chatting with a professional who can help with some coping strategies
- Mindfulness – find an app or a body scan audio to help ‘get out of your head’ and ‘into your body’
- Meditate to calm the inner monkey mind
- Sit down for a cup of tea and focus on the sensations of drinking your tea
Mix ‘n’ Match. Take it slow. Try a couple of things, it doesn’t have to be long and let us know how you go…
And if we missed some of your favourites tell us and we’ll add them to the list.
Remember, it’s important to find a range of activities, self care practices and social interactions that will relax and replenish you.
Nothing that will cause more stress and anxiety, you don’t want to overload yourself
Helpful Products From the Ecology Store…
Mineral Bath Salts
Premium Blend of Natural Epsom Salt and Dead Sea Salt Pure and unscented Calms the mind Relaxes the body Replenishes Skin Relax & unwind soaking in bath or foot bath
A smooth, clear non-greasy formulation 30 SPF with UVA and UVB broad spectrum protection Natural and made with organic ingredients Safe for babies (6 months & older) and suitable for sensitive skin Preservative free and fragrance free
A light non-greasy formulation that goes on sheer and rubs in clear SPF 50 with UVA and UVB broad spectrum protection Natural sunscreen with 22.75% non-nano zinc oxide Suitable for sensitive skin, face, neck and shoulders Fragrance free
A smooth, medium tinted formulation 30 SPF with UVA and UVB broad spectrum protection Natural and made with organic ingredients Safe for babies (6 months & older) and suitable for sensitive skin Preservative free and fragrance free