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effects of chronic stress

Rethinking Resilience

April is stress awareness month. If you’re anything like me, you don’t need a dedicated month to remind you of how stressed you feel day in and day out. The goal of National Stress Awareness Month is to raise awareness of the negative impact of stress, and what we can do to better manage our stress [sigh].

We are in the midst of a burnout epidemic.

Most of us are facing more challenges and higher levels of stress than ever before. Chronic stress and poor mental health are among the biggest public health challenges we face today. Most of us are living in a state of perpetual stress, and some of us aren’t even aware of it because chronic stress has become our “new normal.”

We are “always on,” we are unable to truly disconnect and relax, we are perpetually exhausted, and always feeling behind….and it’s wreaking havoc on our mental and physical health.

While “doing all the things” is often glorified in our modern society, we now understand the negative impact to our well-being because your stress response involves both your mind and your body.

Chronic stress is a consistent sense of feeling pressured and overwhelmed over an extended period of time, and prolonged exposure to stress can have a toxic effect. It can impact our physical and psychological well-being by causing problems such as anxiety, migraines, insomnia, high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, inflammation, gastrointestinal issues, and can even lead to heart disease and depression, amongst other things.

The consequences of chronic stress are serious. Yet, many Americans who experience prolonged stress are not making the necessary lifestyle changes to reduce stress and ultimately prevent health problems.

-American Psychological Association (APA)

Is stress management hopeless?

Maybe. Let me clarify…. perhaps the way we are thinking about stress management is dated.

Many people feel so overwhelmed that they feel helpless when it comes to reducing their stress level, and so they choose to do nothing about it. I mean, who has the time?

To my fellow stress junkies…. I hear you. I see you. I feel you.

Stress and change are here to stay. The challenge is that current stress management techniques scratch the surface at best and are counterproductive at worst.

Self-care practices can be helpful, but they are only one small piece of the puzzle. Other tactics such as toxic positivity, trying to talk yourself out of it, suppressing your emotions, or ignoring signs and symptoms tend to exacerbate the issue, and often lead to a physiological impact.

So, the question becomes, how do we evolve our relationship with stress?

Enter the resilience factor

Despite what we may have been taught, resilience is not about tenacity, it’s not about pushing through at all costs, or “toughing it out.”

Resilience is a dynamic concept. It is commonly known as the ability to overcome, adapt to, and recover from challenges or stressors. However, a more current definition of resilience used by mental health experts is how quickly you can recover from an episode of stress, or how long it takes your body to return to baseline.

Chronic Stress changes the

nervous system on a physiological level

When we experience stress, our nervous system responds by shifting into a higher gear. The sympathetic nervous system is activated, which leads to the release of stress hormones like cortisol. These hormones prepare our body for the “fight or flight” response by increasing our heart rate and blood pressure, and by redirecting blood flow away from our digestive system and towards our muscles. In the short term, this response is beneficial as it can help us to deal with a stressful situation. However, if we are constantly under stress, our body learns to stay in this state of high alert, which leads to nervous system dysregulation.

Over time chronic stress increases your baseline heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. This becomes our new baseline.

What is dysregulation?

Nervous system dysregulation is a condition in which the body’s stress response is constantly activated, even in the absence of a stressful situation. This can even eventuate as burnout: a condition in which the body is unable to cope with stress and becomes exhausted both mentally and physically.

Short periods of dysregulation are normal, but when we get stuck in a dysregulated state, we are at risk for developing a number of physical and mental health conditions.

In addition to chronic stress, traumatic experiences or events, as well as an unhealthy or toxic environment are some of the other primary causes of dysregulation.

Re-thinking Resilience:

Resilience is about nervous system regulation

Ok, so maybe stressing less isn’t an option.

But if chronic stress affects our nervous system, and our nervous system affects the way we think, act, and feel then we need to learn to balance our nervous system, which is why I recently became a Certified Neurological Fitness™ Trainer.

The good news is that resilience is a response which can be learned and cultivated. You can learn how to return to your equilibrium by balancing your nervous system.  

What is neurological fitness?

Neurological fitness is a new simple and effective approach to nervous system regulation, grounded in neuroscience.

Neurological Fitness is based on applied neuroscience and Dr. Stephen Porges’ polyvagal theory first introduced in 1994 – the theory that our nervous system potentiates and limits our range of behavior, and significantly influences the way we experience the world around us.

It’s a measure of:

  • the overall flexibility, balance and resilience of the nervous system; and
  • the ability of the nervous system to adapt to changes in the environment and to respond to demands placed upon it.

Why is it important?

A few of the many benefits of neurological fitness include:

  • improved mood and emotional balance;
  • increased creativity;
  • reduced stress, anxiety and overwhelm;
  • better sleep and physical recovery; and
  • increased overall resilience.

Neurological fitness also improves digestive function – dysregulation starts and stops with the digestive tract leading to:

  • gut pain and issues like IBS and bloating;
  • gut microbiome imbalances; and
  • hormonal imbalances: 96% of serotonin is produced by the gut.

It also helps regulate the production of hormones and neurotransmitters which leads to improved mood and emotional balance as it:

  • decreases norepinephrine and cortisol (stress hormones).
  • increases oxytocin and serotonin.

There are many benefits to having a nervous system that is fit and able to meet the demands placed upon it. In today’s busy world with instant access to opportunities online, our biggest obstacle is now our own physical body. By taking steps to improve your neurological fitness, you can enjoy a better quality of life and improved physical and mental health.

We are living in a state of continuous, disruptive, rapid, and unpredictable change.

My goal is not to give you one more thing to do, and it’s not necessarily about doing less. It’s about giving yourself permission to do things differently.

We now know there’s a different way. A better way.

The secret to modern wellness is a balanced nervous system.

Follow me if you’re interested in learning more about nervous system regulation.

Contact me if you’re interested in private coaching, or a “re-thinking resilience” well-being program for your organization.

Visit my website for more information.

March 31, 2023


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