Stress and health
Stress: a word that has come up more and more in recent years. People around us are sometimes (and often) stressed, we feel stress, and we get stress from different situations. But what, exactly, is stress? And how does our body react to it?
You may have heard of the fight or flight response. This is a stress response that allows the body to quickly anticipate danger. Our bodies tell us to run away from the situation or fight it. How? During these “dangerous” situations, our body produces adrenaline and then cortisol, both known as stress hormones. Adrenaline increases your responsiveness, so you can run away faster! You might also quickly catch a pen that fell off the table or exercise very hard. Cortisol is the stress hormone that keeps you alert for a long time, useful when you’re in a dangerous situation! Jup, adrenaline + cortisol is also known as "stress."
Nowadays it is not often that we are in a life-threatening situation where we actually have to run or fight. Nevertheless, the stress hormones are continuously running through our body. How come? Stress also develops through mental pressure we feel when we have to meet a deadline or, for example, during an emotional event. The alertness is useful for the moment itself, but you do not want these hormones continuously at a high level in your body. Stress has positive effects for the moment, but it also has a lot of negative effects if the stress lasts too long.
Acute and chronic stress
During acute stress, the body gets ready for action. Adrenaline causes blood pressure to rise, the heart rate to increase and the muscles to contract. Digestion is also slowed down so that all energy can be transferred to the "action." You may recognize it from your experiences--with acute stress you won’t get anything through your throat.
Cortisol ensures that we remain alert for a longer period and, for example, continues to raise blood sugar levels. In addition to this reaction, the immune system is also suppressed by this hormone. If the stress persists for too long and there is no recovery moment, chronic stress develops. The body continues to produce too much cortisol. The focus then is not on keeping the body healthy, but on survival mode. You can imagine that various processes in the body weaken, because there is no focus on them. This also applies to the function of the intestines and the diversity of the microbiome.
Our body needs recovery after a stressful event. Unfortunately, there is a lot of time pressure nowadays, so we do not know when to relax--and therefore recover. The body indicates chronic stress through various symptoms: headaches, dizziness, digestive problems, stomach pain, sleep problems, fatigue, concentration problems, and eventually burnout. These are annoying side effects, which also include the fact that we can become anxious or even depressed more quickly. This can also be linked back to our microbiome and the "gut-mind" connection.
Gut-Mind connection and stress
The gut and brain communicate and support each other. For example, you may have noticed that your bowels can act up when you are tense for an important meeting. So you can see the intestines respond directly to stress. Stress can also have an annoying effect in the long term. For example, there may be an imbalance in the microbiome. This has an effect on how we feel, so an imbalance can also cause a reduced functioning of our immune system.
During this stressful, worldwide corona event, lowering the immune system through stress and fear of the uncertain is something we want to avoid. We can take responsibility ourselves and no longer allow ourselves to be taken over by fear and stress by living consciously. This means organizing your own life without too many stressors and releasing stressors that you can sometimes not avoid. This can be done by performing relaxing activities such as walking, dancing, meditating, breathing exercises, gardening: whatever relaxes you! Anything that helps you get out of your head will help to reduce your stress levels.
In addition to healthy eating, reducing stress is also important for our microbiome and digestion to work properly. If our digestion can work properly, the rest of the body will also benefit from this by better absorption of nutrients.
We take a holistic view of being healthy and optimizing your immune system. One has an effect on the other. Relaxation, adequate sleep, exercise, healthy eating, social support, and a purposeful life are important to keep our body healthy. Being aware of our body and thoughts is important to stay healthy. We know that our immune system is 70% built up in our gut. We look forward to discussing further how eating and stress can affect the microbiome in our next chapter: mindful eating.
Did you know...
- Stress is also called the epidemic of the 21st century according to the WHO?
- That 90% of today's diseases are based on lifestyle and stress and are not genetically determined?
Enough to think about again. Until the next!
- Foster, J. A., Rinaman, L., & Cryan, J. F. (2017). Stress & the gut-brain axis: regulation by the microbiome. Neurobiology of stress, 7, 124-136.
- Mayer, E. (2018). The mind-gut connection: how the hidden conversation within our bodies impacts our mood, our choices, and our overall health. HarperCollins.
- Khansari, D. N., Murgo, A. J., & Faith, R. E. (1990). Effects of stress on the immune system. Immunology today, 11, 170-175.
- Rappaport, S. M. (2016). Genetic factors are not the major causes of chronic diseases. PloS one, 11(4), e0154387.
- Schetter, C. D., & Dolbier, C. (2011). Resilience in the context of chronic stress and health in adults. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 5(9), 634-652