Fall Focus Reset: Day 11
Today, Lindsay guides us through a powerhouse standing stretch with variations using a desk or tabletop for support and leverage. As we approach the end of the workweek and for many of us, a long stretch of sitting hours, today’s movement offers much needed TLC for the hips and glutes.
Holistic Health Deep Dive
You might be thinking, “Why have we been talking so much about stress? There are other aspects of health that are equally important, such as immunity, digestion, brain function and hormonal health. And isn’t this Reset about focus and productivity?”
All of that is absolutely correct. And, that is also exactly why it’s so important to understand and address stress. Let’s dive in.
On Day 1, we briefly discussed how stress impacts the functioning of just about all of our organs and systems. This happens for two main reasons:
1. Bodily functions are compromised during stress
The stress response begins in the brain, where a “danger” (anything that threatens the body’s homeostasis, or normal functioning) is perceived, and a distress signal is then sent to the hypothalamus.
Thy hypothalamus functions like a command center, communicating with the rest of the body through the nervous system, which triggers the fight-or-flight response, preparing the body to respond to the perceived danger:
- the heart beats faster to push more blood to muscles
- breathing becomes more rapid
- senses become sharper
- glucose and fats are released from storage, providing energy to the body
These physiological changes are necessary for dealing with true immediate threats such as jumping out of the way of a moving car. However, they also require much of the body’s resources, which means that these precious resources are diverted away from any function that is not urgent at that moment: digestion, immune function, reproduction and more. And when the body is under chronic stress, these other functions are continuously compromised.
Have you ever noticed that during particularly stressful periods, your digestion feels sluggish, you get sick more easily, you experience brain fog, or as a woman, your menstrual cycle might get thrown off? It’s likely that stress is a key factor.
2. Chronic stress can lead to hormonal imbalances
Hormones act as messengers in our body, instructing organs and systems on how to function.
Each time our stress response is activated, a cascade of hormones are released: the adrenal glands initially pump epinephrine (aka adrenaline) into the bloodstream, and if the perceived danger continues, the hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone, which tells the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone, which tells the adrenal glands to release cortisol. With chronic stress, this cascade is continuous.
The thing is, stress hormones don’t operate in a bubble: our hormones and hormonal glands operate together as systems.
Our HPA (hypothlamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis is not only involved in the stress response described above — it regulates most of our hormonal function, including major aspects of our nervous and immune systems, cardiovascular and digestive function, and sex hormones and sexual function!
Remember, our hormones are messengers. So when chronic stress throws our HPA axis out of balance, our hormonal function (aka our physiological messaging system) is compromised, and these other systems are in turn thrown out of balance.
As you can see, by addressing stress, we are in fact addressing all aspects of our body’s functioning, as managing our body’s stress response allows our body as a whole to function optimally.
What can we do to help avoid a state of chronic stress?
- Build resistance: help the body be more resistant to, and fight stress through daily practices such as meditation and movement and a consistent adaptogen ritual
- Minimize exposure: incorporate lifestyle practices that minimize our exposure to all forms of stressors: environmental, chemical and biological toxins, and physical, emotional and psychological stressors
We’ll talk more about minimizing exposure in the next deep dive!