Understanding Stress: The Science and Strategies to Combat This Everyday Toxin

The Magazine: Understanding Stress: The Science and Strategies to Combat This Everyday Toxin

“I’m really stressed.” Pandemics, the badge of busy, modern chaotic demands have us all feeling pervasive stress in all parts of our lives. And while emotional volatility is one of the more popular ways to experience stress, at Prima we want to reveal the new (emerging) science of stress that shows stress is much bigger than that: “Stress is a toxin - a social and physical toxin - that is the most pervasive epidemic of our time,” says Rosalind J. Wright, MD., at Mount Sinai Hospital.

Take a moment (and maybe a deep exhale) to let that soak in: stress isn’t just that freaked-out feeling. It’s caused by a host of stressors - physical, mental, social - that tax our body, mind and skin, especially over time if they aren’t identified. That’s part of the reason why about 75% of all doctor visits are related to stress, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of the US. But it often goes undetected or overlooked until it’s too late.

75% of all doctors visits are related to stress

Think back: why do you believe you got a week-long migraine right after finishing that intense work project? Or missed your period after you moved across the country? Or your skin broke out after eating too many baked goods over the holidays? Stressors - the factors that cause stress - can be situational (such as work), physical (such as moving) environmental (such as diet) and, of course, emotional (fatigue, exhaustion, irritability).

Yes, all of these stressors are often unavoidable - but it doesn’t mean that we have to suffer the way that we have been conditioned to - stress doesn’t have to control your health. We can learn to tune into our bodies and minds to recognize the signs of stress sooner and adopt new habits that allow us to take a more proactive, preventive approach - as well as find ways to minimize the stress once it strikes.

That’s what we’re here to help you do. We created this proactive, preventive guide to stress management, with help from Dr. Apostolos Lekkos the founder of Bios Functional Medicine in California, so you can better understand what causes it, identify common effects, start to understand how to find relief and what that feels like (pretty amazing). Read on, and then consider doing our 5-Day Stress Detox to start taking proactive, simple actions to shed it now.

What is stress and what causes it?

Though there is no unanimous, universal science-based definition of stress, Dr. Lekkos has one that really resonated with us: “Stress is anything that will disrupt someone’s mind, body and spirit - all three or anyone,” he says. As Dr. Lekkos indicates, there are many ways that this disruption can occur in our modern lives. It can feel like stress is hitting us from every angle - so much so that it’s hard to figure out where it’s actually coming from. By identifying the different types of stressors, we can better understand their source and the impact they’re having on our physical body, mind and spirit.

What are the different types of stressors?

Physical stressors

These stressors can often come in the form of exercise - Dr. Lekkos says he sees a lot of over-training that burdens the body. Physical stressors also include injuries and the more subtle physiological impacts of sitting for long periods of time and lack of quality sleep. Temperature extremes, seasonal change, travel (and the ensuing jet lag), medications, surgery and disease act as physical stressors, as well.

Environmental stressors

Often overlooked, environmental stressors are no less harmful to our bodies: they include exposure to the sun and wind, the pollutants in the air, ingredients in the products we put on our skin, allergens, the pesticides in the food we eat and drinking unfiltered water. Dr. Lekkos explains that “using products that have questionable toxins in them - your shampoo, lotions, detergent - also creates stress on the body because of the toxic burden it places on the body. The body has to work hard to try to detoxify itself, and this stresses the entire system.”

Emotional stressors

Although our lifestyles have significantly changed since our caveman days, our DNA has not changed much. We are still wired with a built-in fight or flight response to help us escape any threats in our environment.  Whether there’s a real physical threat like a fire or a perceived emotional one like a fiery email from your boss, our brain still has the same reaction: stress! Because we’re constantly being confronted with these emotional stressors - big ones such as family drama and work deadlines and small ones such as a snarky text from your sister - we’re in a constant state of stress. “These all manifest mentally as well as physiologically,” Dr. Lekkos explains.

How does stress affect us?

If you’re experiencing daily stress - and the stress hormone called cortisol is constantly elevated - your body is spending too much time in the ‘fight or flight’ state, which is governed by the sympathetic nervous system, and not enough time in the ‘rest and digest’ mode, which is driven by the parasympathetic nervous system. “Between work, childcare, not being able to do the things we want and see the people we need to because of the pandemic, that adrenaline response stays high and can cause significant damage to our bodies,” explains Dr. Lekkos.

Good news, numerous studies point to the body’s  Endocannabanoid System (ECS) as being intimately involved in how your body manages stress. A series of receptors that interact with endogenous cannabinoids - compounds produced by our bodies - ECS works to maintain homeostasis. With ECS receptors present in the brain and throughout the body, phytocannabinoids - or CBD - can help regulate the stress response.

Stress impacts our body

Increased cortisol levels - especially over time - can have damaging effects on our body: “The most common symptom is fatigue from sustained stress levels,” says Dr. Lekkos. In addition to fatigue, he also lists metabolism slowing, poor thyroid function, high blood pressure, poor digestion, fertility issues, and increased risk for mental health issues.

Stress impacts our mind

The mental effects of daily stress can be detrimental: Dr. Lekkos cites mood changes such as irritability, poor memory, mental exhaustion, lack of focus, and mental health issues increase. Add to that something most of us have suffered from at some point: trouble with sleeping. “One of the first signs that stress is weighing on your mind is disrupted sleep,” he says. “When you’re not getting restful or restorative sleep, that’s a big red flag.”

Stress impacts our skin

Common skin problems we associate with stress are breakouts - chronic exposure to cortisol stimulates the overproduction of sebum (oil), which can lead to acne by clogging pores, creating inflammation and bacterial growth. Excess cortisol levels also cause the skin to dehydrate, resulting in dry, flaky skin. This dryness will cause the skin to appear more aged with wrinkles and dark spots more visible. Regular exposure to elevated cortisol levels can also inhibit the production of hyaluronic acid and collagen, which help keep your skin plump and youthful.

What does stress relief look and feel like?

Take a second to check in with your body: are you clenching your jaw? Holding your breath? The first step toward stress relief is to be aware of yourself, says Dr. Lekkos. “Check in with yourself multiple times a day to see how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking.” He explains that you’ll know you’re handling stress well when you feel more calm, content and grounded; when you feel like you can handle what’s coming at you throughout the day.

One of the most empowering aspects of stress relief is realizing that it’s not really about the stressor - it’s about how you react to it. By learning simple ways to get ahead of the stress  - to keep your body and mind calm - you can better handle it when it inevitably strikes. Dr. Lekkos recommends taking breaks to walk outside every day, doing deep breathing exercises regularly, creating a positive intention in the morning, and practicing meditation. Incorporating certain foods into your diet and products into your well-being regimen can also help: plant-based meals can help calm the nervous system, as can the functional botanicals and broad-spectrum hemp Prima uses in our formulations.

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