It’s no secret that stress is bad for you. Coined as the “silent killer,” stress can have a huge negative impact on not only reaching your goals but your quality of life in general. I’m sure you’ve heard that there are two types of stress…..”good” stress and “bad” stress. What does that mean to you and me? Is it as black and white as it sounds, good or bad? How do you know which is which, and is there a grey area where one may become the other? In this article I’m going to break down what stress is, how your body responds to both acute and chronic stressors, and just how big of an impact it may be having on your life whether you’re aware of it or not. However, the main message of this article is to talk about the importance of “deloading” from all the stressors in your life and the major health benefits it gives, both mentally and physically.
Stress has been defined as a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium. If we think about all the things that effect us mentally or physically on a daily basis we can see that we are constantly encountering stress to a certain degree. The body’s response to these stressor is the “fight or flight” response which causes hormonal reactions in the body. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the timing and frequency. Of the hormones released due to the “fight or flight” response as a results of stress are adrenaline and cortisol. If we are gearing up for an intense workout, great. But if it is due to a mismanaged or overwhelming and unhealthy lifestyle, we will certainly face the consequences in one way or another. That is because these hormones that are meant for short-term emergency situations and not for every day life. Recent studies show that chronic stress can enhance your chances of life-threatening diseases, increase chances of depression and ultimately take up to 10 years off of your life. Up to this point things may seem a little vague. You’re expose to stress on a daily basis, either mentally or physically and stress ultimately will kill you….great, now what!? First, lets break down exactly how stress (and different types of stressors) have been show to effect each individual.
According to a study published in Prevention Magazine, 73% of Americans deal with intense and massive amounts of stress on a weekly basis. The American Psychological Association says that 75% of adults have admitted to being overwhelmed under the weight of moderate to high levels of stress in the past month alone!
When you think of stress, you probably think of something bad that has negative results. But there are types of positive stressors as well. The most positive physical stressor is exercise. Whether it be aerobic or anaerobic exercise, it is the imposed stress that causes the body to adapt and come back stronger. When implemented correctly, this form of stress actually helps you become healthier, fitter, and in overall better shape. Without diving too deep into the mechanisms of how this happens, essentially the body is temporarily suppressed and builds itself back stronger. Like anything, “the dose makes the poison”. Do too little and you don’t get the results. Do too much and you cannot recover from the excess stress leading to adverse results. This form of positive stress applies to anything. Something may not be inherently good or bad, rather it is to what extent we implement it. An example is the question of whether or not one should work out while they are sick. Moderate exercises may slightly, temporarily suppress your immune which ultimately makes it stronger when it recovers. However, intense exercise has a more drastic effect on your immune system which takes longer to recover from making you more susceptible to getting or increasing your illness.
On the contrary, there are many forms of bad or negative stressors. These include lack of sleep, continually overworking, poor nutrition, and negative relationships in life to name a few. As a general rule of thumb you can think of a negative stressors as anything that negatively effects your mood when you are not actively doing it.
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More often than not, stress affects you mentally and is manifested physically when you get to a breaking point. Most people are aware of how bad these forms of stress can be yet still find themselves falling down a slippery slope. The “grind” mentality is usually rationalized by telling yourself you will just do it to get to a certain point. But often times once that point is reached people find themselves setting new goals, standards, and ultimately rationalize doing more. The chronic lack of sleep, lack of proper dieting, drinking alcoholic beverages, or entertaining disfunctional relationships takes a toll (usually in an additive manner) until you can no longer withstand the pressure of stress.
Although we have talked about “good” and “bad” stressors, there is a certain line that can be crossed where a “good” stressor can have a negative impact leading to similar outcomes of bad stressors. This usually happens to those individuals who are very meticulous in their daily life and habits. We probably all know someone (if you don’t you may be that person) who keeps a schedule and routine to a T and doesn’t allow anything to get in the way of it. They wake up at the same time (likely early in the morning), may follow a specific diet, have a set time they workout, or any combination of things. But is this healthy? Having no room for flexibility, whether your schedule allows it or not, may lead you down a road of unnecessary stress……….
How do you know when you have too much stress in your life? The main warning sign from both personal experience and others input is mood change. When things you enjoy or things that use to seem like minor tasks are no longer enjoyable or impossible to complete, you may on the verge of burning out or getting over stressed. This seems like an easy warning sign if you have been sleeping 3-4 hours a night, working 18 hour days, or partying each night. But what if you have been doing all the right things but possibly setting unnecessary standards or expectations on them? If you have a hard time being present, that should be your first warning sign that you may need to step back and look at things from a different perspective. Not only do you not enjoy what you are doing at that time, but you find yourself always thinking back or forward never enjoying each moment. Daily life becomes a series of checkmarks or accomplishments rather than enjoyments and experiences. By taking a step back and looking at things from a bigger picture, you may find that you are making things harder on yourself then they have to be….for no reason at all! Many times stress becomes a vicious circle. You would think your body would shut off and rest as soon as your head hits the pillow each night but unfortunately that’s not the case. You can reach a point of no return when you’ve heightened your stress response hormones chronically and your mind won’t shut off in the evenings. This leads to less restful sleep and…you guessed it, more stress!
How do people typically deal with stress? (Each person may deal with/handle stress in a different way!)
My personal experience and effective way (deloading).. I didn’t know I was stressed until I felt stress free: What a difference. Talk about your workouts, your sleep, your energy, your talk with Derek, the importance of being you and not who you think you should be to accomplish your goals…. Reference Nick C. (testosterone levels from 200s to 800s all due to stress, Jake E. sleeping 10-12 hours a night, etc) Reference Charles P. on the difference from gym stress volume and intensity…. (volume causes physical changes, while intensity causes mental/mood changes)
(be self-aware, incorporate daily times to decompress mentally… mention the HeadSpace App (10-day free trial), lead a healthy lifestyle as much as possible, BALANCE, deload when necessary).
I believe you have to overcome stress 9/10 but being more aware and deloading is a good way to press refresh every now and then. Hard work still is the way.
“Learn to rest, not to quit.”
Sapolsky, Robert M. “Stress, glucocorticoids, and damage to the nervous system: the current state of confusion.” Stress 1.1 (1996): 1-19.
Pruessner, Jens C., Dirk H. Hellhammer, and Clemens Kirschbaum. “Burnout, perceived stress, and cortisol responses to awakening.” Psychosomatic medicine 61.2 (1999): 197-204.
When investigating sixty-six school teachers each morning upon waking at different time points, those with both high levels of perceived stress and burnout also reported the lowest self-esteem, highest locus of control, and highest number of somatic complaints (physical and/or mental). Perceived stress did correlate with increases in cortisol levels first thing in the morning. Interestingly, higher suppression of secretion and overall levels were shown as well…possibly due to chronic heightened levels from chronic stress? This shows that each individual may respond differently to perceived stress withinin the hypothatlamic-pituitary-adrenal axix, with duration of stress being a potential factor.
Lupien, Sonia J., et al. “Effects of stress throughout the lifespan on the brain, behaviour and cognition.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 10.6 (2009): 434-445.
Chronic exposure to stress hormones, whether it occurs during the prenatal period, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood or aging, has an impact on brain structures involved in cognition and mental health. However, the specific effects on the brain, behaviour and cognition emerge as a function of the timing and the duration of the exposure, and some also depend on the interaction between gene effects and previous exposure to environmental adversity. Advances in animal and human studies have made it possible to synthesize these findings, and in this Review a model is developed to explain why different disorders emerge in individuals exposed to stress at different times in their lives.
The first factor is sex and gender. The second factor that should be considered in future studies is exposure to environmental toxins. The third factor that should receive greater attention is circadian rhythmicity. Sleep deprivation, shift work and jet lag all disrupt normal biological rhythms and have major impacts on health.
Ng, Debbie M., and Robert W. Jeffery. “Relationships between perceived stress and health behaviors in a sample of working adults.” Health Psychology 22.6 (2003): 638.
Aside from the hormonal effects of stress, people tend to have stress-relieving habits to cope. One study chose to investigate the associations between perceived stress and fat intake, exercise, alcohol consumption, and smoking behaviors. High stress for both men and women was associated with a higher fat diet, less frequent exercise, cigarette smoking, recent increases in smoking, less self-efficacy to quit smoking, and less self-efficacy to not smoke when stressed. It is important to note that the individuals analyzed were part of a program to quit smoking, making smoking a likely vice of choice for coping (rather than alcohol per say). These results are important to consider not just in terms of stress but to look at the negative lifestyle and health choices people often make to cope with stress. As mentioned earlier, stress can be a vicious circle. The unhealthy consequences of stress alone are compounded when you stress-relieving habits are more unhealthy choices. These compounding facts will both have affects on overall health, disease, and quality of life.
Loss, Sleep. “Sleep loss results in an elevation of cortisol levels the next evening.” Sleep 20.10 (1997): 865-870.
Sleep deprivation, whether partial or complete, has also been suggested to impair performance and mood greater than physiological functions. One study investigated the acute effects of both partial and total sleep deprivation on following day and night cortisol levels. To no surprise, they found that individuals with partial and total deprivation has significantly higher levels of cortisol the following day (37 and 45% increases, respectively). As you can see from the results of the study, partial sleep deprivation (4 hours sleep) had nearly the same effects on cortisol levels when compared to total sleep deprivation (no sleep at all). This may force you to rethink skipping out on a few hours a night to get ahead, at least long term without allowing nights to catch up on your sleep debt. This study ultimately concluded that even partial acute sleep loss delayed the recovery of the HPA and is likely to involve an alteration in negative glucocorticoid feedback regulation. Sleep loss could thus affect the resiliency of the stress response and may accelerate the development of metabolic and cognitive consequences of glucocorticoid excess.