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The toxic effects of permanent stress on your nervous system (plus how to stop it)

by , 22 March 2017
The toxic effects of permanent stress on your nervous system (plus how to stop it)
Feeling stressed from time to time is completely normal. No one lives a completely stress-free life! Your body is designed to cope with these bursts of stress.

Stress is your body's natural response to demands placed upon it. It fuels your body with the necessary resources to get it out of danger and into safety.

On the other hand, feeling stressed all the time can be very detrimental to your health. Nowadays, many people are trapped on this feeling.

Keep reading to learn what happens to your body when you're permanently stressed, plus what you can do to fight back.

What happens to your body when you feel stressed all the time?

Stress goes hand in hand with your nervous system and, more specifically, your fight-or-flight system, also known as your sympathetic nervous system (SNS). But it also affects your rest and repair branch, or your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
 
When your nervous system detects that you’re in danger – for example, when you’re under pressure or have consumed too much caffeine – your SNS automatically releases stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol, raises your heart rate, increases your respiratory rate and diverts blood away from your digestive tract to your muscles. It does this to help your body fight or run away from whatever is threatening you.
 
Your SNS and PNS balance each other out. Your PNS slows down your heart rates and diverts blood back to your digestive tract so that you can digestive your food as per normal. It also helps your body focus so that it can fulfil its many other roles, from repairing damaged tissues to producing sex hormones.
 
What this ultimately means is that if you’re living your life ultimately SNS dominant, you end up permanently stressed – and this can wreak serious havoc on your health!

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How do you get trapped into feeling stressed all the time?

In today’s modern age, most people lead very busy lives, making it easy to find themselves with a one-way ticket to feeling stressed all day, every day. 
 
If you spend most of your time awake each day engaged with something – whether it’s working, looking after your children, watching television or scrolling through social media – it means that you’re undeniably switched on. Some of you may even work a job that requires you to be available 24/7 and that you need every extra minute to complete everything on your to-do list.
 
If you can relate to being switched on all the time, you know just how exhausting it is – and you probably use caffeine to perk yourself up. While caffeinated drinks like coffee and energy drinks may seem like a harmless way to wake up your system, they’re quite the opposite… 
 
Such drinks send a message to the pituitary gland in your brain to have your adrenal glands produce more stress hormones to fire you up. This is why after a morning of gulping down lots of coffee, you experience a mid-afternoon crash and seek out something sweet and sugary – or more caffeine – to keep yourself going.
 
Then, when you arrive home in the evening, you feel wired and perhaps use a glass of wine or another kind of alcohol to calm yourself down. These elements perpetuate a dangerous cycle in which you never feel truly calm and relaxed. The result? You feel stressed all the time. 
 

How do you tell if you’re on the “stress express”?

Below are some common signs and symptoms of feeling stressed all the time:
  • You feel anxious easily;
  • You regularly feel stressed or as though you are on high alert;
  • You struggle to lose weight no matter what you try;
  • You’re always craving sugars and carbohydrates;
  • You’re regularly bothered by digestive complaints;
  • You regularly sleep poorly and wake up feeling tired;
  • If you’re a woman in menstruation years, you experience PMS;
  • You feel like everything is urgent and there aren’t enough hours in the day;
  • You are a worrier or a drama queen (or king); and
  • You live on coffee, energy and anything else that contains caffeine.
 

How do you stop the stress cycle and help your mind and body relax?

The single most important thing to do if you want to jump off the “stress express” bangwagon? Activate your PNS!
 
You can do this by cutting back on or completely giving up caffeine and switching to green tea instead. Green tea contains a substance known as theanine, which helps lessen the harmful effects of caffeine.
 
Another way to regulate your stress levels is to practice good sleep hygiene. Get into the habit of going to bed before 10pm every night – it will make a world of difference! If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, try switching off all electronic devices – like your television and smartphone – at least one hour before bed. The light emitted from such devices can disrupt your production of sleep-inducing hormones.
 
Furthermore, practices like yoga, restorative yoga, tai chi, Pilates and meditation are excellent for activating your PNS. If you don’t have time in your days to fit in these exercises, try a breath-focused practice such as taking 20 long, slow diaphragmatic breaths every morning before you get out of bed. You can also practice this breathing technique at your desk at work every time you’re feeling frazzled or at night to help your body fall asleep quicker. 

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