According to the World Health Organization (WHO), stress is the “health epidemic of the 21st century.” Stress kills 7 people every 2 seconds, that is 110 million people every year. The Center for Disease Control and the National Institute on Occupational Safety & Health declares the workplace our #1 life stressor.
What if this health epidemic of the 21st century was a figment of our reality? What if it’s our perceptions about how we perceive our life stressors because of our samskaras, vasanas, threats, and egotistical survival negatively impacting our health and our interactions with others? When we are happy life is EASY and when we are stressed, angry, upset or agitated life SUCKS. Y’ all remember the movie Pay It Forward? Well, you can pay your love and light forward or you can pay your misery forward cause “hurt people, hurt people. I am not about to preach or advise (I am not a psychotherapist) that you should be grateful for the roof over head, money in the bank and food in the fridge, because I am over all the instagram posts proclaiming that love, light and gratitude are the principals to happiness. However, I do want to share something a little more evidence-based and tangible.
How does stress, any stress, impact our physical health… Keep reading for a stress response review (skip to the Ted Talk if you’re over it..).
The stress response system is a physiological reaction to a perceived physical and/or emotional stressor from a harmful attack or event that threatens our physical and/or egotistical survival. As mammals, our sympathetic nervous system reacts to threats by preparing the body to flee or to fight. A cascade of hormones and neurotransmitters are released including norepinephrine, epinephrine, adrenaline, estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, dopamine and serotonin. The release of adrenaline and cortisol elevate your blood pressure causing the heart to beat harder and faster. Constriction of the visceral blood vessels shunts blood away from the internal organs sending it to the large muscles of the arms and legs so you can flee or fight. White blood cells stick to the walls of the capillaries, ready to be activated in case of injury, wound or infection. Energy sources, including sugar and fats, are mobilized from the liver to give you plenty of fuel. As you know from experience, this response kicks in fast and takes a while to wear off.
If our stress response system works properly, the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) will activate and to lower blood pressure back to resting, dilate the blood vessels to bring blood back to your organs, normalize stress hormones, blood sugar and blood clotting levels.
The stress response system is pertinent to functioning in our daily lives starting with getting us out of bed in the morning. It allows us to be “superhuman” if we are being chased by a lion or we need to lift a car off a loved one. However, a sustained activation of our stress response system, beyond the lion and getting out bed, is detrimental to our overall health. Nowadays, being superhuman is defined as how many things can I accomplish in one 24 hour period. Our threats are financial, professional, and personal. Add in social media demands combined with our electronic addictions to cell phones and computers with lack of human connections, our “threats” are now emotional, not physical.
The American Psychological Association reveals additional stressors are from money (75%), work (70%), the economy (67%), relationships (58%), family responsibilities (57%), family health problems (53%), personal health concerns (53%), job stability (49%, housing costs (49%) and personal safety (32%). Our stress response system either stays activated or gets repeatedly activated. This sustained activation alters our physiological function of all our organ systems including the endocrine, cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, hematologic, immunologic systems.
We have created a growing 11+ billion dollar industry to reduce our stress with self help books, yoga/meditation, breath work classes/workshops, sound bath events, retreats, therapists, acupuncturists and anyone who calls themselves healers, not to mention loss of workplace productivity and healthcare costs that equal up to $300 billion dollars per year. I am not saying this is bad, but we only NEED this because society says stress is bad and WE ARE BELIEVING society. And ladies, the American Psychological Association states that we women are suffering a greater level of stress than our male counterparts! Millennials, you guys are more stressed than generation X. Gen X, we are more stressed than the Boomers. Boomers, you are more stressed than the Matures. What if our stress level, and its effects on our bodies, were positive because we changed our perception of stress. Again, I am not any kind of therapist, but Kelly McGonigal is. She is a health psychologist… She will tell you why STRESS IS GOOD!
So, who wants to trade in their valium, xanax or antidepressants for a prescription oxytocin? In my experience working in functional medicine, good oxytocin products are expensive and they are not created equal. The delivery system is important as it can only be absorbed through our mucus membranes. Most importantly, we can get it for free. We create our own oxytocin in our own bodies… Hug someone (with their permission #metoo), seek support, create human connections… GET OFF YOUR CELL PHONES, make some eye contact and create at community.