It is time for the final countdown before the much anticipated Holiday break. We are in the midst of of to-do lists, countless versions of “Oh, Holy night’ and likely, cooking for more than your own family (by the way, great time to explore allergy friendly cooking & baking) . It is the season of peace and compassion; yet, this time of the year stress seems to take a greater toll on us all. During the month of December consumerism is at its peak and work usually requires an extra effort before the end of the fiscal year.
In this blog post I would like to take an untraditional angle on how stress affects us. How we can make friends with stress.
Lifestyle related diseases are a leading cause of premature deaths in America and stress is, for many, the catalyzer for bad eating habits, sleep deprivation, and skipping of physical activity.
First, some hormone facts (because hormones decide everything.)
The hormones of stress
Stress is our body’s response to demands in life. Bursts of cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine are pumped into the bloodstream to help us perform better and think faster. Blood sugar levels go up and our breath takes in more oxygen. This is because our ancestors had some killer fight or flight mechanisms, upon which they survived the angry predator and laid way for your and my existence. So here we are, turning on the stress responses while dodging car crashes on the way to Yoga class. This is one form of stress. Long-term, stress over work, finances, or big choices creates an unhealthy environment for our cells. Almost daily we read about why it is bad for us and how to relieve it. Yet, stress has some cool features we don’t usually think about or hear about.
Oxytocin - Connecting people
One stress-hormone that I did not mention above is Oxytocin. It is the so called “cuddle hormone”. Oxytocin is a hormone that repairs the heart when it’s been under the pressure of adrenaline for a longer time. It is also the hormone that makes you want to bond with people in your surrounding. It creates an urge to emotionally connect with your friends and family to relieve what’s caused you to feel stressed and get support. Stress makes you social - it is biologically proven.
And it doesn’t stop there.
A driver for progress
When you think about your daily life, ask yourself: what is the state of your stress-levels when are you the most focused and determined to really get things done? When is your mind at its sharpest and your energy levels optimal? This is also a type of stress. The type we enjoy, simply because it makes us feel alive. A moderate dose of stress is the kick we sometimes need to reach our immediate goals.
In the same fashion, studies show how stress helps our immune system. Patients with moderate levels of stress before surgery have higher chance for survival.
It has even been shown that our attitudes toward stress will decide whether or not you have a higher risk of dying from stress-induced symptoms.
A positive attitude might save your life
Let me clarify this most controversial statement.
We constantly hear how stress is related to a higher-risk cardiovascular profile. And yes, living with high levels of cortisol and adrenaline in the blood for a long time is not good. But listen to this concept: fresh studies in psychology show that people who experienced a lot of stress last year, undergo a 43% higher risk of dying. Wow.
However, this is only true for the people who believed stress is harmful. Those who experienced a lot of stress but believed it wasn’t harmful for their health were actually no more likely to die. In fact, these people had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study, including those who didn’t experience a lot of stress in the first place. Bigger wow.
Lesson to take with you: The right attitude towards stress is KEY.
Attitude around stress is key since studies show that people who “believe they suffer” from stress are those who will suffer and that those who “enjoy stress” not only survive, they get stronger, and more social. Sounds like a /win to me!
Until next time, enjoy the holiday preparations everybody!