Welcome back to June’s stress series! Something that is really stressing me at the minute is the weather. It’s supposed to be summer! Stop with the hailstones and storms already please! Ended up soaked earlier going from the house to the car – ridiculous!
In this post we’ll be looking at how stress impacts your ability to recover sufficiently and the longer-term effects this can have. It’ll be mega useful for you to check out what stress is first of all so if you haven’t already check out last week’s post.
Something we didn’t touch on last week was the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic system allows us to rest. It’s responsible for restoring the body and conserving energy by reducing respiration and heart rate and increasing the digestive process. It’s sometimes referred to as the ‘rest and digest system’ and helps us calm down after a period of sympathetic activity. The sympathetic nervous system basically does the opposite – increases the production of cortisol and catecholamines (‘stress hormones’), increases heart rate, blood pressure and heart rate volume and makes it really difficult to relax. It’s most active during stressful situations (remember fight or flight? Thank your sympathetic nervous system!)
It is so important to have regular recovery from stressful scenarios to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and reduce the sympathetic response. Remember, these scenarios can be a host of different things: your workouts, your workplace, your Physio, your friends, your family – the list goes on.
When the parasympathetic nervous system is in charge, we allow our body and brain the opportunity to recharge for the next thing we have planned. Strong indicators of someone who has a good recovery regime are things along the lines of a reduced resting heart rate, a high heart rate volume, reduced respiration rate, reduced blood pressure, healthy bathroom habits, higher sex drive, reduced muscular aches and pains, reduced likelihood of injury, higher energy levels, reduced feelings of anger, sadness and overwhelm – all mega positives!!!
Stress inhibits these because it, quite simply, doesn’t let the parasympathetic system come in the door and allows cortisol to have a house party. Whilst the parents are away and all that!!
But what’s the problem with cortisol having a rager in your house? It’s just having a good time, right?
Well constant cortisol production can lead to a bunch of nasty things. Think weight gain progressing to obesity, acne (nobody wants spots after puberty!), thinning skin, bruising like a peach, severe fatigue, slower healing ability, redness of the face and skin, global muscle weakness, higher blood pressure, headaches, increased irritability, difficulty concentrating, anxiety and depression. It’s not the cool guest anymore is it?
Have you ever been to a house party that the Police have had to close down? I have when I was out in America. I went to a frat party, things got out of hand, the Police came to shut it down. A bunch of folks went and hid so that once the Police left they could restart it.
Cortisol can be like that as well – just when you’ve managed to get a bit of recovery in and the parasympathetic system starts to take control, cortisol brings its pals adrenaline and noradrenaline and comes running in from the kitchen causing havoc again. It’s like a wee gremlin!!
And the cycle starts again. Sometimes this cycle goes on for a long, long time and can be very difficult to break. There’s a reason that we find we get stuck in a stress cycle and that’s because the more time we spend under stress the less resilience we have to stressful situations i.e. something that we normally wouldn’t find stressful suddenly becomes difficult to manage and our sympathetic nervous system kicks in quickly to try and protect us. It’s a bit of a nuisance really!!
It’s not all doom and gloom! There are ways to interrupt this cycle and ways to kick cortisol out for good.
Tune in to the next instalment to find out how!
Until next time x