Even thinking about having a stressful time induces a stress response in the body and we act accordingly. We tense our muscles, change our breath, externally orient our attention, and lose awareness of our bodies.
Our ancestors were highly tuned organisms. They were likely incredibly dexterous and honed to their external environment, required by the forces of nature to update their model of the world often in order to survive. They experienced stress, no doubt, but their ability to be nomadic allowed them to move out of untenable situations. And being part of a tribe allowed for incredible social support necessary to blunt their stress response.
But now we’re like zoo animals – the only other animals that experience incredible chronic stress. We are held captive by our own devices and social constructs.
Chronic stress (prolonged activation of the sympathetic nervous system and exposure to cortisol) affects every cell in your body.
- it changes the way we move
- creates and perpetuates pain states, anxiety, and depression
- forces us to see the world in absolutes with a negative bias
- redirects blood flow in your brain from logic and creativity to habit and reactivity
- disrupts the connections and memories in your brain which challenges the ability to learn anything other than going deeper into your habits
- alters your sleep
- messes with your food choices (preferring carbs) and ability to digest food as it shunts blood away from your gut
- causes increased storage of body fat, particularly in the belly
- kills off beneficial bacteria in your gut and makes it more permeable (leaky gut) which increases inflammation
- disrupts and misdirects the immune system
- erodes the ability to connect with and trust yourself, which of course damages your relationship with other people and the planet
In the understatement of the day, chronic stress is gonna affect your recovery.
So the real question is, why are you stressed? While I do think that there are some out there who choose to be stressed by making poor choices for the sake of #drama, most don’t choose to be stressed – though we can get addicted to it. A stress response is your brain’s best attempt at solving a perceived threat. And that threat is completely unique to you based on your own experiences.
Perhaps it’s awkwardly locking eyes with a crazy guy on the bus; it’s catching a whiff of body odor and thinking it’s you (or is it just me that worries about that?); it’s thinking and thinking and thinking.
It’s also the accumulation of things you don’t even notice as affecting you initially – the nearpoint visual stress of staring at a computer screen that’s blasting you with blue light or the din of traffic and the A/C unit outside your window. Ever notice how much calmer you feel once you’ve noticed the A/C shut off?
Or perhaps you are experiencing chronic stress because you can’t perceive where you are in space – because of distorted vision, balance, or sensation. Why are these perceptions distorted? Because of a traumatic injury or a stressful, chronically inflamed childhood that involved more of wanting mom or dad’s approval and not so much playing outside.
You may say you aren’t stressed, but the numbers don’t lie:
- 75-90% of visits to the doctor are stress-related
- Stress is a factor in 5 of the top 6 leading causes of death
- Half of all adults have adverse health effects due to stress
- Stress costs $1 trillion per year
Until we can take a crack at solving the prolonged stress modern culture has created, our efforts to truly fix our health problems will likely be stopped in their tracks. Stress isn’t a box to be checked, it is THE thing to be fixed.
P.S. Want to learn how to relax more deeply and move with more coordination? Want to undo the effects of stress on how you move? Check out my Movement Meditations audio course.