Most people talk about stress as something they feel. You probably relate it to an uncomfortable emotion, such as frustration or anxiety. There's also a physical experience of stress in the form of tension, knots in the stomach or tight breathing. Stressed people look rigid and have crumpled, unhappy faces … at least, these are all the expected signs.
But did you know not all stress is conscious? And because your body is so amazing at adapting, you may not even know it's happening.
There are two types of stress that your conscious mind processes; acute and emotional. We're built for survival, and the body focuses on what's vital. During an acute stress response, your body wants you to notice stress. It's telling you to be alert and giving you the strength you need to survive. This is usually an uncomfortable experience but goes away when the stress goes away.
Emotional stress is different. Emotional stress is there to tell you something isn't quite right from an intuitive perspective. Maybe it's a job you're struggling with or a relationship, maybe you need food or love. There is something the body feels and wants the mind to notice and do something about.
Now, there are actually other unconscious stressors that happen in the body every day, and although there are different forms of stress, the brain doesn't really differentiate between. The chemicals released in all stress responses are virtually the same; we get cortisol followed by inflammation. This is the stuff that causes damage to cells, suppresses immunity and just messes with your health in general.
Here are five types of stress that you may not be conscious of, and how you can help your body cope:
Soreness and micro tears on muscles increase cortisol, so any exercise that's "hard'' can leave the body in a state of stress. Even yoga and Pilates! Make sure you focus on recovery and have the right nutrition to fuel you. If you skip meals and eat junk, you'll slow your recovery.
2. Long work hours
Working hard and commitment to your job is great, but if you're sacrificing rest and pushing through, your body is likely under stress. Make sure you aim for balance; it's better for your health and performance in the long term.
3. Poor digestion
The gut is the seat of your health. If you're experiencing long-term digestive troubles this can cause systemic stress.
Your gut flora is linked to mental health, immunity and general well-being. Make sure this is all thriving. There are amazing herbs, enzymes and probiotics which all support healing the gut.
We live in a world where we admire flawless images and aspire to be perfect. But if your energy is always worried what others think, then your body will respond to this with internal stress. Your thoughts impact the chemicals triggered by your brain, so nurture positive thoughts and practice self-compassion. Be gentle when you make mistakes.
5. Environmental stress
Consider the amount of toxins, chemicals, processed food, sugar, caffeine, allergens, excess-stimuli and media that we are exposed to daily. All of these factors can impact various systems, which in turn trigger stress. Living a clean life, eating whole, organic foods and reducing exposure to toxins, is the best prevention to reduce the stress load on the body.
There's so much we can do to reduce underlying stress, but first we have to acknowledge it. In doing this we can have a positive impact and improve the way we live, look and feel. A long-term plan, rather than a short-term response, is the best possible medicine.
You can support your body in so many ways by giving it more lovingkindness. Don't take your body for granted, and don't wait for it to break down before you start noticing and appreciating how hard it works for you.
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