Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Frog Wakes Up…What Stress Does To Our Health

We all know the old adage of the frog that is placed in the pot of cold water. The water heats so slowly that the frog merrily goes about its froggy business never realizing its fate until it’s too late to jump out. The point is we allow ourselves to adapt to unrelenting “stress” in multiple dimensions of our lives. We perceive this as “normal” and can even feel lost or bored when some spaciousness appears amidst the fray.

With the holiday excitement behind us followed by the inevitable New Year’s resolutions to improve our lifestyle and eating habits, let’s take a look at the realities of what stress does to our health. This may help us find a deeper motivation for sustaining needed changes that benefit us on all levels.

“Fight or flight” mode uses up the body’s resources to escape from danger. This is a ‘“catabolic” or “wear and tear” physiological state. Healthy physiology maintains a more “anabolic” or “build and repair” state of being, while chronic catabolic metabolism breaks down the body/mind/spirit. Long term stress is like borrowing on your “equity line of credit.”

Here is a list of some of the deleterious effects of chronic stress:
  • Disrupts brain-neuro-endocrine system
  • Lowers adrenal function
  • Causes hormone imbalance
  • Causes immune suppression
  • Causes Sugar/insulin imbalance
  • Increases weight
  • Disrupts Sleep
  • Promotes catabolic process
  • Triggers emotional/psychological domino effects
  • Promotes negative beliefs and thought patterns, self doubt, depression, anxiety
  • Isolation
  • Breaks down muscle mass
  • Causes loss of bone mass
  • Increases risk of infection
  • Increases allergic responses
  • Increases risk of CVD, autoimmune disease, cancer
  • Promotes inflammation
  • Inhibits digestion
  • Imbalances neurotransmitters
  • Poor rebuilding and repair
  • Causes nutrient deficiencies

Serious stuff! So, what can we do to shift ourselves into a healthier pattern and reduce stress? We can learn much from meditation, which encourages us to closely examine ourselves with a sense of honesty coupled with compassion, rather than judging and criticizing ourselves. From this process we can often find a deeper source of real motivation to make changes. Continuing to tap into this deeper sense of motivation is a key to maintaining our desire to practice healthful habits. Understanding the real damages of stress in our lives helps to maintain motivation to incorporate consistent practices to reduce stress. Meditation also teaches us that change comes about by taking small steps and making them part of our lives rather than making dramatic leaps that we are not able to sustain. For example, committing to 15 minutes of daily meditation and breathing is a simple small step that has profound benefits.

I work with many people who have life-threatening illnesses. Many of my patients have expressed that the opportunity that such a severe health challenge offered was the shift in priorities – a shift away from a narrow focus on accomplishment and goal orientation, to the feeling of connectedness and love given and received between friends and family, connecting with nature and becoming more acquainted with their inner life. Life became much simpler, yet more profound. We have the good fortune to learn from these experiences and examine our lives, re-prioritize, simplify, and take steps to create some spaciousness, equanimity and connectedness in our daily lives. Our physiology will respond in kind. Find out more at

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