Short-term "acute" stress, the kind we get from appropriate exercise, is highly beneficial to human health. Sudoku and other puzzles improve brain function by stressing the brain, for a short period of time, which triggers new brain cells to develop. Exposure to bacteria, both good and bad, helps train our immune system to act appropriately. Stress, in these forms, plays a big role in creating robust and resilient humans.
The problem is that stress, for most people, is now "chronic". In other words, it never stops. Unfortunately, this is not a scenario where if a little is good then more is better. All of the benefits of stress disappear when it's experienced long-term. Chronic exposure to stress increases blood pressure, suppresses the immune system, raises blood sugar, slows digestion, and more. And here is what most people don't know ... when I say stress ... I'm not just talking about mental & emotional stress. I'm talking about anything that turns on the stress response.
The stress response is a physiological event that occurs when the body responds to something it deems stressful. Regardless of the stressor (we'll discuss those in a minute) the response is the same. The hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis or HPA axis refers to a set of glands that control the bodies stress response. When activated, this system is responsible for a highly coordinated (and impressive) array of activity that ultimately ends in the physiological changes mentioned above (increased blood pressure & blood sugar, decreased digestive strength, etc.). Like I said, in the short term this isn't a bad thing (in fact, it's beneficial) however, when the HPA axis is constantly activated problems arise. So, what activates the stress response? I'm glad you asked!
Mental & emotional stress (bills, kids, traffic, work, etc.) will activate the HPA axis. But get this ... so will sugar, pesticides, junk food, plastic, heavy metals, nail polish, not enough exercise, paint, inadequate sleep, too much exercise, fluoride, and any foods you are sensitive to ... to name a few. Stressors are ... in short ... anything that activates your stress response. This is where it gets really individualized (particularly in the realm of food). My body might love nuts but for you they cause digestive upset. You might feel fantastic when you eat eggs where as I get a headache when I consume them. The high leverage point for lowering my stress response might be mental & emotional while yours could very well be dietary. Bio-individualized care is critical in a toxic world.
I like to say that the body wants to be healthy but our participation is necessary. The modern world has many benefits and, unfortunately, an abundance of stressors (far more than existed 100 years ago). It has become necessary for each of us to evaluate the stressors in our life, minimize exposure to the ones we can, and build resilience against the ones we cannot.
So, I'd like to know. What are the biggest stressors in your life?