Stress is something we are talking about ALOT lately. Let's face it. We're on lock down. We haven't seen family. The huggers are hugging our dogs like crazy to compensate for not being able to hug our besties. The world is a little chaotic at the moment.
So we respond with STRESS. But what is stress, and what is the impact on the physical body?
Well, let's break it down. You have two VERY basic nervous systems. Sympathetic and Parasympathetic. We spend ALOT of our waking hours in our sympathetic state - also known as our "fight or flight" state. Parasympathetic? That's our "rest and digest" state. No, I didn't make that up - it REALLY is referenced as our digest state. So...let's think about that.
If I am constantly on the go as my prior life dictated, I'm grabbing a muffin (or maybe a hard boiled egg - or an Epic Bar) on my way out the door with my coffee in my other hand and not one but TWO relatively heavy bags on my shoulder as I head out the door and jump in my car noting that, like always, I wish I'd left 5 minutes earlier to beat traffic and snag that primo parking spot at work. Now...you can argue that once I'm IN the car, I'm parasympathetic because I'm sitting and driving isn't a tough activity. But add red lights, highway traffic, music to pump me up (or my favorite podcast), someone cutting me off, my employee texting me that he doesn't feel well and won't be coming in today, and of course, trying not to spill my coffee that I'm sipping on in between bites of that bar I grabbed..come on you guys. Driving to work is NOT a parasympathetic activity.
That's just ONE example of eating on the go. We do it at home as we grab our kiddo, feed our dogs, cram a few crackers in our mouth with a couple of bites of cheese while realizing vacuuming just ISN'T going to happen today. Or we are eating mindlessly while watching an action packed show in front of the tv..regardless. You get my point.
Most of the time, we are eating in a SYMPATHETIC state. Which isn't a good idea. How to combat that? I'm glad you asked. For starters, allow yourself time to eat calmly, without feeling rushed. Yes, mommas, I know that's hard! The best trick I've learned is to lay on the floor in front of your couch, and plop your feet up on that couch. Rest your arms out to the side. Take 5 DEEP breaths with your eyes closed. And lay there another minute or two. SLOWLY get up, and get ready to eat. If you need to take another deep breath before eating, go for it.
Now, that takes care of GETTING you into a parasympathetic state. But I want you to see the issues that STRESS causes on the body, aside from just digestion (and wait, did we even discuss HOW it impacts digestion? NOPE! Let's go!)
So, first, sympathetic state. That means our heart rate has naturally increased, our bronchial tubes have dilated, our eyes are slightly dilated, our muscles are contracted, our adrenal glands (they are responsible for a LOT of hormonal activity) are shooting out adrenaline, our saliva production decreases, and our stomach doesn't really allow the release of digestive enzymes needed to break down our food. Our sphincter is contracted (ever notice how hard it is to poop when you're stressed?)
Parasympathetic means our heart rate slows down, our stomach is allowing the release of those digestive enzymes, our saliva increases (sorta funny for those of us that are drooling at night!), our muscles, including our sphincter, relax...and we feel CALMER.
So, when you get a call that a family member is in the hospital, or you get your bill from the utility company, or you hear that the country is shutting down, that people are losing their jobs, and you can't get toilet paper.....do you think you're stressed? Do you notice your body is more tense? Do you feel like everything is out of your control and you want to just sit and cry? Believe it or not, that is a PHYSICAL response to what is going on around you. Stress is a PHYSICAL response. Your brain is sending signals to your body saying "she's (or he's) not handling things well right now - let's put the brakes on normal body function". It's a real thing, guys.
So just how bad is stress for our bodies? Well, if we aren't really digesting right, but we're obviously still eating, that can trigger a ton of different reactions. Everything from allergies and asthma to congestive heart failure to cancer growths. If your digestive enzymes aren't released, your stomach can't properly break down your food (technically your bolus once in your stomach), and when the food moves into the small intestines, it's more chunky than pastey (we want pastey!), and the small intestines freaks out. The pancreas and your gallbladder (or your liver if your gallbladder has been removed) never get the signal from the small intestines to release additional juicy goodness (like bile) to break down food further, so you end up with malabsorption and maldigestion in the small intestines.
Which, just so you know -- the small intestines is where 90% of your nutrient absorption happens - so it's kind of important, guys. In addition, approximately 85% of your serotonin (that's your feel good mellow chemical your body produces) is made here. If your small intestines is angry, do you think it's going to produce serotonin? Probably not...so, there comes the additional anxiety, depression, worry. Thus the constant cycle of stress. Now, we've got one more step to go. Once the food (or chyme - in the small intestines) is ready to move to the colon, it's ready to make it into waste. But...remember. Your stomach didn't do it's job, so neither did your pancreas, nor your gallbladder and liver, nor your small intestines....do you think your colon is going to work normally? NO. So what happens then? Well, it depends on numerous other factors, but typically, you'll end up with constipation, diarrhea, or a combination. FUN!
So think about it. The most stressful times in your life -- you either REALLY needed toilet paper, or you REALLY needed a laxative.
So instead of going through all that, how about we just focus on some deep breathing before we eat? Cool?