I am a stress head. Both my parents are stress heads. Let’s just say, I come from a family of stress heads. And I truly believe that the stress I have immersed myself in my whole life has had a major impact on my health. The truth is, for 12 years I have suffered with mental health issues, from anxiety to major depression. And I still to this day continue to struggle with them. Some days I wake up with extreme anxiety, an elevated heart rate and shakiness. Others I feel like I want to be gone, I am so fatigued and dizzy my body could just fall apart. Until we experience it for ourselves, not many of us realise how much our emotional health can affect our day to day life.
I continue to soldier on though. I push myself to my limits, and then I eventually fall back down again. So much so that I wound up in hospital mid this year, sick from the world I had immersed myself in. Anxiety and depression had taken over my world, like a big grey cloud that would just not go away. I was stuck, not even my family or friends could help me. And to be honest, I didn’t see a future. Only a past of which although had love, I only saw the grief.
Recovering from this darkness inside me has been a major journey for me. I still have my bad days, but I try to see the good in things, in the people around me, and who I am. I am so lucky for what I have, and sometimes this angers me because I question myself for why I feel this way. But I suppose it’s not entirely my fault, the world we live in has a major impact on the health of us overall health. You see we constantly want to do better, be better, and there’s eventually a point where we just want to be more than we will ever be. Not to mention how stressful and fast paced our day to day lives are.
I recently experienced an epiphany watching a movie/documentary called ‘The Connection’. If you want to change your life for the better, this is a movie to watch. It addresses the issue of stress, regarding it as a major factor in the development of chronic illness, and a predictor of mortality. But a major topic it goes into is the connection between our mind and body, and the very profound effects they have on each other.
The human body is an extraordinary machine. But it requires homeostasis to function optimally, meaning that our systems must be kept within a certain range. Our brain acts as a control centre, delivering messages as either hormones or neurotransmitters throughout the body. But if part of our body is out of balance, such as the brain, this machine isn’t going to function as well. Hence a disturbance in this equilibrium contributing to dis-ease.
If we look to the flight-or-flight response, a completely natural mechanism, it is a life saver. From an evolutionary point of view, our body has created a system that allows us to deal with danger, such as a saber tooth tiger in the wild. The hypothalamus in the brain receives a distress response from another region called the amygdala, signalling the adrenal glands to release the hormone adrenaline into the bloodstream. Adrenaline causes a raise in heart rate, blood pressure and in respiratory rate, our senses become sharper, and we get a surge in energy due to the release of blood glucose. Another hormone called cortisol is also released by the adrenal glands, causing us to stay in high alert until the threat eventually passes and cortisol drops.
The sad thing is that many of us are experiencing ongoing stresses in our day to day lives that are far from the attack of a saber tooth tiger. Things like work, constant fear, traffic, over exercising and sleep deprivation can have such an impact on our delicate systems that we can send the flight-or-fight response into overdrive. And this is when we can begin to see physiological problems. Consistent elevation of adrenaline can damage blood vessels and arteries, resulting in high blood pressure, a major risk factor of heart attacks and strokes. Elevated cortisol has other profound effects – it suppresses the immune system which leaves us more susceptible to becoming sick; it disrupts the digestive system, contributing to issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS); it affects the normal functioning of both female and male reproductive systems; it can cause damage to DNA, contributing to mutations; and it causes the release of excess blood glucose from the liver, giving rise to diabetes and weight gain. And not to mention mental health, as long-term stress has the ability to cause damage, as well as change the structure and functioning of the brain.
As we can see, stress like other risk factors for premature death, can cause disruption to all of our bodily systems. And if we look particularly to the brain, the centre of all bodily processes, it plays a major factor in our overall health. When mental health is compromised, the way we eat, exercise and live are usually affected to a great degree, which further affects physical wellbeing. As discussed in The Connection, statistics have shown that people who are lonely, depressed and/or isolated are 3-10 times more likely to become unwell and die prematurely than those who surround themselves with love, connection and support. Risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol don’t even have such profound effects.
We do however have the ability to reverse the effects of stress, particularly through the use of techniques such as meditation and yoga. These practices have existed for thousands of years and continue to show positive effects in reducing symptoms and even reversing illness, such as cancers, depression, infertility, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain (when used with and without medications). This truly shows us that the connection between our mind and body is so much important that we think, and must not be taken for granted.
An area called Mind Body Medicine is currently growing; there is now profound evidence to show the effectiveness of meditation. Meditation works by assisting us to focus on the present moment, instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future Although the mind is made for thinking, our minds are often set in default, whereby we constantly experience negative thoughts and strive for perfectionism, major contributors of stress. But by switching off this stress response, we have the ability to create state where we no longer are as susceptible to or can even reverse illness. . We can even lower heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure. And not to mention the effects on reversing ageing, including illnesses such as cancers, heart disease and dementia, as well as our genetics, which predict not only our own future, but that of our offspring.
So why not try some daily mind body techniques to improve your health and wellbeing? Although I do it occasionally, I’m going to make it an everyday commitment to create some calmness in my day, no excuses. Time will tell if my anxiety will decrease, but I have a positive feeling about this. If you have an iPhone, I cannot suggest these Apps enough for reaching a peaceful state of mind: Insight Timer, Smiling Mind and Headspace. And there are so many more out there! Or even try a yoga or meditation class. Just 10 minutes a day can make a difference!
If you have any comments or questions please do not hesitate to leave a comment below or a question in the ‘Contact Me’ tab, all get back to you as soon as I can! Stay happy, healthy and well lovelies!