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Stress – crucial or a health risk?

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The word stress if for most people connected to feelings of discomfort and something to be avoided at all costs. And there are of course a lot of people suffering from negative stress leading to long-term sick leave, but stress is also a vital reaction we have inherited from our ancestors.

 

What is stress?

When you hear the word stress you often think of tight deadlines and lack of time, but for our body it is much more than just that. Anything interfering with our inner, well-regulated balance will create a stress reaction, and it happens even when we see something perceived as harmful and we need to either fight or flee. When our blood sugars dip after eating a meal a form of stress is created.  When you get up quickly from your office chair, gravity will push the blood in your body down towards your lower body, also causing a stress reaction. And even if we only get a little warmer or colder that our optimal temperature to regulate all the chemical reactions in our bodies a form of stress is created. If we are faced with a life-threatening situation we need to decide in a millisecond if we should fight or run, and this quick thinking is caused by a reaction to stress.

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The important stress reaction

The stress you experience when you are afraid, nervous or stand up is caused by nerve signals by our brains to different organs. Our heart beats faster, our breathing increases, our blood pressure gets higher, our blood is re-allocated so there is more for the bigger muscle groups and less to our stomach and kidneys etc. The signals are sent with extreme speed and thanks to that we do not faint every time we get up, and also have the ability to rush forward and save the little infant almost falling out of a chair.

The stress reaction is also conveyed to the bodies inner organs via a slower system – our hormones. It takes longer for the hormones to  travel from the gland it was created in, via our blood, to the target organ compared to how a nerve signal is created. Some examples of stress hormones are adrenaline and cortisol.

 

Adrenaline is set free from our kidney and has the same effect as the nerve signals causing our blood sugar to rise. Cortisol, even this produced in our kidneys, has a long range of effects. It increases our blood sugar, dampens our immune system, breaks down muscle fibres, stored energy such as fat is set free into the blood stream etc. Thanks to the stress hormones we can release energy from our depots, meaning we can be physically active for several hours without eating and can survive long periods of fasting (or dieting).

 

Without these stress reactions, both from our nerves and hormones, we wouldn’t be able to survive.

 

The ever-important recovery

Stress reactions are a prerequisite for survival but so it recovery. Being exposed to stress has a big impact on our bodies but is not a problem as long as periods of stress are mixed with periods of recovery. If you look at training, stress is crucial in order to even get through a workout, but the stress will break down your body at the same time, therefore a period of recovery is crucial for the body. During this period of rest, the muscle cells will rebuild themselves which is what gives the positive effects of training.

 

Resting after a workout probably feels natural, but a more low-intense for of stress caused by f.ex. anxiousness also calls for a period of recovery. Otherwise, it can make you sick!

Tips on recovery:

  • Try not to become stressed from being stressed. Stress is not bad for you as long as you have time for recovery.

  • Identify what is causing the stress and see if you can make a change. 

  • Figure out what gives you recovery and book time for it in your calendar. Nothing will come by itself.

  • Make sure to get enough sleep.

  • Ask for help - preferably before the stress gets too big. It can be difficult to resolve a tough situation on your own and it can be much easier for an external part ot see and give creative suggestions. 

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About the authors Jessica & Maria

Challengize health tips are written for us by Jessica Norrbom and Maria Ahlsén, both with PHDs in medicine. Since 2013 they run their own business Fortasana working mainly with diet, training and health from a scientific perspective. Maria and Jessica have written several books and regularly lecture focusing mainly on popular health myths and explain what is actually true from a scientific perspective when it comes to diets, trends and newspaper headlines.

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