Why should we be concerned about lowering our stress levels?

Some of our clients ask us about stress. Why is it so dangerous? Isn’t that just a normal day-to-day part of life in a fast-paced, urban, concrete environment like New York City?

We explain that, no, prolonged stress is never normal. The problem is that we get so used to it we don’t even recognize the symptoms anymore. It becomes our new “normal.”

Stress, though, is one of the main reasons for sleep-deprivation or insomnia, a potentially dangerous condition. Yes, we all experience a sleepless night here and there, but continual sleeplessness can lead to many physical and emotional ailments. In fact, a recent study by the Archives of Internal Medicine gave 153 people the rhino (cold) virus by nose drop. Those who slept less than 7 hours a day we three times as more likely to contract the virus than those who got 8 hours or more.

Sometimes stress can be a good thing. After all, it helps us rise to a challenge, such as taking an exam or getting ready for a big dance. It can even occur when we experience intense happiness, such as seeing a loved one after a long absence, or even falling in love. Once that event takes place, though, the body immediately returns to its previous normal state, standing by for another response, if needed.

What we’re talking about here is the harmful stress—the drawn-out kind caused by events like career problems, moving, job change, death of a loved one, etc. With this kind, the hormones released during the stress response can have a destructive effect on important immune system cells and that system becomes less capable of fighting off illness and disease, thus making the body more prone to colds, flu, or bacterial infections.

Did you know that 75- 90 percent of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints? Did you know that 43 percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress?

These are just a few things we can experience from prolonged stress:

  • tension and migraine headaches
  • muscle pain specific to the neck, back, or shoulders
  • insomnia
  • anxiety attacks
  • depression
  • digestive disorders (ulcers and colitis)
  • cardiovascular disorders (high blood pressure and heart arrhythmias)
  • respiratory disorders (asthma and allergies)
  • cancer

There’s also the hormonal issue: When you are stressed, both cortisol and adrenaline (the “fight or flight” hormone) are released. In small doses, both can be a good thing; adrenaline, especially, helps us in emergency situations: Blood pressure rises, heart, breathing and metabolism rates are increased; even the pupils dilate so you can see better! The liver releases glucose for your energy levels.

When you’re stressed, however, your adrenal hormones are continuously working and your body is in that “fight or flight” mode. The adrenals will eventually wear out, and that leads to fatigue and maybe even depression.

Cortisol is healthy in normal doses when it regulates blood sugar levels, immunity and metabolism. It does respond to stress, however and is sometimes referred to as another “fight or flight” hormone. Too much cortisol can lead to things like low thyroid, blood sugar imbalances, decreased bone density, lowered immunity and increased abdominal fat—in fact, cortisol is often held responsible for those expanding waistlines!