How many times did you hear you had to destress from other people, and even from yourself? Stress is such a huge part of our society it affects our lives way beyond what we are designed to handle. We all know it’s a bad thing for us at a personal level, but I really wanted to show you that it’s affecting us much deeper, at a biological level. And it may be even worse than you think. The point of this post is not to frighten you, but to bring awareness and knowledge so that you can be conscious of what is really happening in your body when you’re stressed out and take action to free yourself from this pandemia.
The person who opened my own eyes is Bruce Lipton, a well-known American biologist. In simple words, his thesis is that we are not victimes of our genes, that the environment plays a paramount role in their expression and that we can take control over them. In other words: we are not predisposed in any way, and we have the power to either worsen or improve our state.
In his book untitled “The Wisdom of Your Cells“, he addresses stress as a harmful environmental factor. As we experience stress, we switch our ‘fight or flight’ state on and pause our normal metabolism for the time we need to cope with the stress. This ‘fight or flight’ expression uses a simple image to picture what it does: when you’re facing danger or any type of exterior threat, your body triggers stress hormones (mostly adrenaline) – with the help of the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the reflex center of your brain – to cope with the threat, whether you choose to fight it, or run from it.
Once the threat is gone, everything goes back to normal: your ‘fight or flight’ state is switched off, and your ‘rest and digest’ state is switched on. What is referred to as ‘rest and digest’ is the “normal metabolism” I was talking about a few lines before, the one that was shut down in order to enable the ‘fight or flight’ state to express to deal with stress. The ‘rest and digest’ state helps with interior threats, and includes the immune system.
Knowing that, we can therefore infer that both ‘fight or flight’ and ‘rest and digest’ cannot be working at the same time. ‘Fight or flight’ is an occasional feedback system that helps dealing with some punctual exterior threat, and ‘rest and digest’ is the one that helps our bodies to silently deal with everyday bacteria and infections that enter our bodies without us knowing. They sure are complementary, but our body cannot focus on both at a time.
Nowadays, the problem is that we experience stress 24/7. As a result, our ‘fight or flight’ state is overused and our ‘rest and digest’ is silenced for too long. The consequence being that we debilitate our immune system to let room to the reflex response. In Bruce Lipton’s words, “protection shuts down growth processes and allocates energy to behaviors needed to sustain us in a threatening situation”.That’s why people generally tend to get sick when they have exams for example. But that can be way worse than a simple cold from time to time, as we can become chronically sick of all kinds of diseases, whether you think they are insignificant like back pain, headaches or fatigue, or highly serious like cancer, diabetes or other auto-immune diseases – bearing in mind that the supposedly insignificant ones could be symptoms for serious ones! Now you probably begin to grasp how bad stress may be.
Here’s another fact you might find interesting: the release of stress hormones constrict blood vessels in the forebrain – where you intelligence and conscience sit – in order to increase blood flow to the reflex center – the home of your instincts and basic reflexes. So, when you’re stressed out, you’re less likely to think with your conscience. In the contrary, you’re subject to your primitive instincts. In other words, you are ‘dumber’ than when you’re not stressed. And that’s a pity, right?
And there’s more: the blood of a stressed pregnant woman is filled with stress hormones and other stress-related agents, which will enter the foetus. How the mother-to-be is going and feeling, and what she experiences while she is pregnant have an actual impact on the foetus development. In the case of stress, the mother’s stress hormones passed on the foetus through blood cause the reflex center of his brain to develop more, and his forebrain to under develop, which will create less intelligent human than it should have been in the first place. Striking, isn’t it?
To put it in a nutshell, a relaxed and happy person living in an environment deprived of stress will tend to be more intelligent and healthier than people living under too much stress, who will use their primarily instinct more than their actual thinking center, and will get easily sick – both chronically and acutely. And I’m afraid to say they will pass this on to their offsprings.
However, I shouldn’t say ‘I’m afraid’, because, even though our stressing world is literally killing us, the good news is there’s actually plenty of things we can do about it! We’re not victims here, and we can decide whether we will let ourselves be killed by it or withdraw it by doing simple things: relax (with yoga, mindfulness or simple breathing exercises), think positively, surround yourself with positive people, eat healthy and move your body. By working on yourself with that in mind every single day, you’ll get to experience a more relaxed life, giving your mind and body some rest and joy.