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Posted by on Jul 9, 2013 in Body & Mind, Featured, Pilates, Stress | 0 comments

Stress – In The Long Term

Stress – In The Long Term

My previous blog Stress – Can It Be Good? described the stress response and how it is ideal for short-term, immediately stressful occurrences nowadays most stress is psychological and long-term rather than physical, and short-term. Think worrying about your child growing into a rebellious teenager versus escaping a lion.

In long-term stress, the stress response remains switched on for extended periods which is not good for your health.

The stress response increases heart rate and blood pressure which can cause damage to blood vessels, this, over time, increases the risk of blood vessel blockages, heart disease and stroke.  The excess energy provided to the blood in response to stress needs to be burnt off or you risk developing type II diabetes.

Stress decreases digestion and immune function, leading to increased risk of stomach ulcers and digestion issues, plus more chance of become ill and succumbing to infection. Additionally, pain perception and inflammation is decreased. This last one may sound great at first- but consider the fact that pain is there as a warning that you may be damaging yourself, and if you do hurt yourself then inflammation is a necessary step in the repair process of your body – so you might actually want to hold on to both of those.

It is enough to make you stressed about getting stressed!

Thankfully, there is something you can do about it – and it isn’t just about removing what is causing you to be stressed – though that would be the most useful thing to do, so you may want to try that first. However, if you can’t remove or get rid of the stressor- after all no matter how stressful your kid may become you probably want to keep them – then Pilates can help.

Pilates can help with burning up the excess energy released which can be problematic if not used. It can also increase the production and circulation of immune system cells- helping to rectify the decrease it’s functioning due to stress.

Pilates gives you an opportunity to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous which is responsible for slowing the heart rate, dilating arteries and resuming normal digestion. This is activated when exhaling, therefore encouraging lateral breathing and a slow, long exhale will allow the parasympathetic nervous system a chance to return the body (at least for a short time) to normal functioning. However, proceed with caution- forced breathing patterns may cause more damage than good, especially when linked to existing medical conditions.

Having to focus on a Pilates class may be enough to distract from whatever is causing the stress, which should switch off, or at least decrease, the stress response. But be careful of suddenly incorporating an extremely challenging exercise, as this may be enough to activate the stress response again. It is a fine line – enough of a challenge to distract, but not enough to cause stress!

Despite the benefits of exercise in dealing with the symptoms of chronic stress symptoms, these are often short lived. Exercise will blunt the stress response for up to a day after class. If the stressor is still present the stress response is likely to return to the level it was before Pilates. Therefore, where appropriate, encourage your clients to repeat some exercises outside of class and encourage clients to engage in other exercise.

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Posted by on Jun 21, 2013 in Anatomy & Physiology, Body & Mind, Featured, Stress | 0 comments

Stress * – Can It Be Good?

Stress * – Can It Be Good?

You often hear that ‘stress is bad’ and ‘not good for you’, but what exactly is it, and is it always bad for you?

For many years ’being stressed’ was considered a ‘state of mind’ – Fortunately these days what happens when you’re stressed (the “stress response”) is now better understood! Stress may be good for you – but not for extended periods – read on…

Stress is unusual in biological terms – although the causes can, and do, vary between what people find stressful (think anything from first date to being chased by a lion) it usually results in the activation of the same physiological mechanisms- the “stress response” but the stress response can result in different outcomes. This extremely complex pathway involves the nervous, endocrine and immune systems.

When we perceive something stressful (some people like first dates and lions…) the brain sends a cascade of nerve impulses through the body via the sympathetic nervous system. This increases processes in the body, through the release of the hormones adrenalin, noradrenalin and ACTH. Adrenalin and noradrenalin are partially responsible for the metabolic changes that occur during stress – including the rapid mobilization of glucose to provide instant energy to muscles (‘flight or fight’), and an increase in heart rate and blood flow. ACTH keeps the heightened response going via cortisol and glycogen. Cortisol initiates the breakdown of glycogen into glucose, and triglyceroles into fatty acids. Both glucose and fatty acids are used as energy sources, making the blood energy rich and ready for ongoing vigorous activity. Furthermore, cortisol inhibits inflammation. All of these responses are beneficial if a physical response is required (some people want to run from first dates and lions).

Endorphins are released and   – with an impact similar to morphine, opium and heroin – the perception of pain is reduced. For a brief period (approx. 30 mins) the immune system is improved (due to the release of ACTH) but digestion levels drop (due to a reduction in stomach acid and reduced blood flow to the stomach).

A small amount of stress appears to be beneficial to brain function. Although not completely understood, it is thought that an increase in adrenalin and glucose facilitates the formation of memories and increases alertness and danger recognition.

And there you have it – the “stress response” is many responses – some bodily functions are increased, while some – generally those that are not immediately useful are ‘put on hold’. The stress response is a form of efficiency drive – there is no point worrying about producing children and digesting a three course meal if you may not make it through the next 10 minutes!

So, stress in itself is not bad and neither is the stress response! It is probably even downright useful when faced with a lion, but the stress response is designed to help you tackle immediate physical dangers – not long term psychological or emotional situations. If the stress in your life is more long term issues this may result in the stress response being ‘switched on’ for extended periods, which is not what it was designed for and which can have detrimental effects. These effects will be discussed in the next blog – When Stress Goes Bad. 

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Stress*- is ‘any factor that threatens the health of the body, or has an adverse effect on its functioning, such as injury, disease, overwork, or worry.’ (Oxford Medical Dictionary)

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