The Impacts of Stress on the body

The Impacts of Stress on the body

2020 has been a stressful year for everyone and we are often unaware of the impacts that stress can have on the body. We can experience stress emotionally and physically, but the body can also experience stress when we feel like we are coping well.

What is stress and how stress works?

The body effectively has two “fuel tanks” or nervous systems to assist us to function on a daily basis.

The main fuel tank in the body is the parasympathetic nervous system. This is also known as the “rest and digest system”. This is the system that we should be operating out of 80% of the time. When we are using this fuel tank, the body is able to digest food, heal injuries and illnesses, we are calm and the body is functioning well.

We find that we experience good quality sleep and wake refreshed. It is important to know that the body heals when it is asleep, and if we are not getting enough sleep, or good quality sleep, then our body is unable to heal or function to the best of its ability.

Could you be putting your health at risk?

The second fuel tank is called the sympathetic nervous system, or our emergency fuel tank. This is known as our “fight and flight nervous system”.

It is only meant to be used for short bursts. The sympathetic nervous system is present at anytime we need it; day or night for example if someone attacks us, or we are placed in an emergency situation where we need to run, we have the energy to do so.

When this fuel tank is being used, the adrenals are firing and we have a burst of energy. During this time, we are unable to process foods and the majority of foods turn into fats (in case we are stranded on a deserted island with no food, it enables us to survive for longer periods), and we are unable to heal any injuries or illnesses. The body is using all of its energy to simply survive what it perceives as a dangerous situation.

As mothers, we all lead busy lives!

When we are up through the night, or rushing to get the kids out the door, our adrenals kick in and we move into the emergency fuel tank. We then tend to rush around doing all of our jobs, going to work, and juggling the stresses of daily life.

This year, we have experienced increased stress caused from COVID-19. Unfortunately many of us will be using our emergency fuel tank majority of the time. This is not good for the body and if we remain in this state for extended periods, you can risk adrenal fatigue and other conditions such as Chronic Fatigue. When we have depleted the main fuel tank and rely solely or mainly on the emergency fuel tank, we are at risk of burning out and then we are no good to anyone.

Is your body under stress?

The most simple way is to consider if you have to keep busy and get all of your jobs done because you know when you stop you may feel exhausted and it is too hard to get going again? This is a clear sign that you are using your emergency fuel tank to function on a daily basis. Another sign is waking after a minimum of eight hours sleep and still feeling lethargic.

What are some stress-busting strategies that you can implement to assist you to return to your main fuel tank?

  1. Deep breathing: I teach people to “bunny sniff” through their nose to ensure they are activating their diaphragm and then ensure they are breathing into the belly on the inhalation. Number breathing is also useful. If you can take 3 deep breaths every time you brush your teeth and every time you sit in the car. This will reset you into your parasympathetic nervous system.
  2. Take time out for yourself. It can be as little as 10 minutes a day. It may be having a hot cup of tea, reading a book or going for a short walk. It is important to consciously relax but not be asleep.
  3. Book yourself a treatment. It may be a massage, a facial or a treatment to work on your nervous system. (Physiokey/Scenar session or an Acupuncture treatment can both help).
  4. Ensure you get a good 8 hours of sleep a night where possible
  5. Drink plenty of water (aim for a minimum of 2L but more is even better, especially as it warms up)
  6. Avoid stimulants such as caffeine as much as possible
  7. Be Kind to yourself
  8. If everything is feeling on top of you, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Speak with your GP and consider a referral to see a psychologist.
  9. You have all heard some of these strategies many times, but how often do you complete them?
  10. Try and make time time for yourself. Once you are feeling amazing, you will have more energy and clarity to be able to assist your family and those around you.

If these strategies are not effective, please arrange to see your GP and seek further advice.

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Sarah Davis

Sarah is a mother to her two boys and is also an experienced Occupational Therapist, SCENAR and Physiokey practitioner with over 15 years experience.

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