I have been studying through the American College of Sports Medicine resource for the Health Fitness Specialist. It’s the book recommended for personal trainers who want to work with special populations and complicated illnesses. I am actually very impressed at the progressive information found in this text. I was fully prepared to disagree with a good portion of the information but as it turns out I really love the insights. Today’s chapter for study is Chapter 12, “Healthy Stress Management”. You should see my copy of the book, there are more highlighted lines than not. I guess it is safe to say that it speaks to me!

This chapter goes over the body changes that take place during stress and how those things impact health. There is a great deal of information in here that I either didn’t know or just gained greater clarification on. As always, when I am excited about something I want to share it. So here it is, what you don’t know about stress.

The General Adaptation Syndrome

Experiments from Hans Selye in 1956 showed that underlying nonspecific response patterns are consistent across different stresses. That means most people will have similar responses to stress, only differing respectively according to each person’s circumstances. The common factors were seen in the way the body deals with stress. Stress responses were outlined in three stages:

  • Stage One: Alarm and Reaction- During this time the stress is first recognized by the system and a fight or flight response is initiated.
  • Stage Two: Resistance- Next there is a cascade of metabolic, hormonal and immune changes to compensate for the stress. This can include the release of gluco/cortico steroids and the activation of the hypothalimic-pituitary-adrenal axis. It can also include a change in autonomic neurotransmitters and inflammation causing cells.
  • Stage Three: Exhaustion- all of those things happen to help mitigate the effects of stress but when it is prolonged the body will exhaust all it’s resources and will no longer be able to mount a defense against the stress. Observed effects of exhaustion as a result of repeated stress is that the body stays in a constant state of resistance and the capacity to fight off illness is decreased, sometimes to the point of death. Yes, in scientific studies of organisms constant stress has been shown to be the cause of death. On a lessor scale it will negatively effect the functioning and health of the body by increasing the vulnerability to illness and speeding up disease progression
  • Learn more about Has Selye and his research HERE

    What Does Stress Do To My Body?

    Stress affects three primary systems of the body; The cardiovascular or heart system, the endocrine or hormone system, and the immune or illness fighting system.

    1. Cardiovascular changes lead to higher risk of heart attack and stroke

    • Abnormally large heart and high blood pressure to pump more blood to the body
    • Higher concentration of activated platelets for clotting
    • Higher cholesterol, mainly triglycerides and free fatty acids
    • Increased plaque and artery disease as a result of higher free fatty acids

    2. Endocrine/Hormone changes- the cortosteroid cortisol is released

    • Blocks glucose from being taken up by cells creating diabetes
    • Increases fatty acids in the blood increasing heart disease
    • Accumulates fat in the abdominal area

    3. Immunity suffers

    • Decreased production of antibodies
    • Decreased production of activated T cells
    • Increased risk of manifesting symptoms of a cold or virus
    • Reduction in natural killer cells that fight cancer

    In the words of a very wise pop star, I would like to ask you:

    “Now that you’ve got it, what you gon to do about it?”

    – Gwen Stefani

    Here are some things that have been proven to help with controlling stress. While you may not be able to change your circumstances, you can change how you react and deal with them. Quite literally, your life depends on it.

    • Improve your social support- Talk to your closest friends and relatives. I don’t mean venting or gossiping. I mean sharing your feelings and getting feedback in an honest and stable environment.
    • Improve your control over your situation- If you are in this situation, chances are it is because, to some degree, you chose to be. Make the decision to remove yourself. If you cannot, then try to be less negatively effected. Find other areas that you can control and make decisions to positively effect the situation. Remove negative people and things from your life, you will be glad you did.
    • Exercise- It actually regulates the amount of cortisol that is produced. A small walk or stretching during a stressful time can decrease muscle tension and change your whole mood. Find out more about the benefits of regular exercise under exercise prescription categories on the blog.
    • Progressive muscle relaxation and breathing- This is a technique that uses visualization. Close your eyes and become aware of your body. Find the places that you feel stress and try to release them. Think about your shoulders, facial muscles and neck. Learn more about this technique HERE
    • Meditation- Use yoga or just sit quietly. Start to become comfortable with yourself and learn how to clear your mind. Think of nothing but your breathing for at least 10 minutes at a time. When thoughts start to creep in, push them away and just breathe. Check out this article titled “The Benefits of yoga for Stress Management” HERE
    • Laugh! In this article titled “Laughter Still the Best Medicine” HERE , they explain the many positive benefits of laughing
    • Take a break from life, learn how in this article titled “Rejuvenate Yourself” HERE