The topic of “Stress, Sleep, Emotions & Physical Wellbeing” is a subject very dear to my heart. I’ve personally been through traumatic and devastating phases in my life which had a tremendous effect on my sleep, emotions, stress levels and overall health. So it is with great passion that I share about tools and techniques that can support us in those areas.
To get started, rate your stress levels
An important first step is recognizing the degree to which we are affected by the stress in our lives and then move toward strategies to alleviate and better manage stress.
For each question add the number from the scale that is most appropriate:
0 – never; 1 – almost never; 2 – sometimes; 3 – fairly often; 4 – very often;
_____ 1. In the last month, how often have you been upset because of something that happened unexpectedly?
_____ 2. In the last month, how often have you felt that you were unable to control the important things in your life?
_____ 3. In the last month, how often have you felt nervous and stressed?
_____ 4. In the last month, how often have you found that you could not cope with all the things that you had to do?
_____ 5. In the last month, how often have you been angered or frustrated because of things that happened that were outside of your control?
_____ 6. In the last month, how often have you felt difficulties were piling up so high that you could not overcome them?
4 – never; 3 – almost never; 2 – sometimes; 1 – fairly often; 0 – very often;
_____ 7. In the last month, how often have you felt confident about your ability to handle your personal problems?
_____ 8. In the last month, how often have you felt that things were going your way?
_____ 9. In the last month, how often have you been able to control irritations in your life?
_____ 10. In the last month, how often have you felt that you were on top of things?
Add up your points and see where your stress levels falls:
Individual scores on the PSS (perceived stress scale) can range from 0 to 40 with higher scores indicating higher perceived stress.
Scores ranging from 0-13 would be considered low stress.
Scores ranging from 14-26 would be considered moderate stress.
Scores ranging from 27-40 would be considered high perceived stress.
Let’s take a look at how stress affects us
We are all familiar with our bodies stress response – the fight or flight response – where the adrenaline kicks in, cortisol is released into the body and you become faster, stronger, highly alert, you react quicker – this response in your body can keep you safe when danger looms – it is a healthy and amazing response happening in your body.
But when we are under constant stress, when stress becomes chronic and the HPA axis stays activated, our bodies are continually flooded with cortisol and adrenaline. What is the HPA axis? The Hypothalamus – Pituitary – Adrenal System which regulates our long term stress. The Hypothalamus releasing CRH (corticotrophin) which is a hormone that activates the Pituitary Gland to release ACTH (adrenocorticotropic) which is another hormone, that stimulates the Adrenal cortex to release cortisol into the body. When we experience chronic stress it becomes difficult for our body to switch from the fight or flight response of the sympathetic nervous system back into rest and digest response of the parasympathetic nervous system.
When we suffer from chronic stress it can start affecting any of our body systems, we can become irritable, develop anxiety and depression, chronic stress affects the nervous system so we can start developing headaches or nervous disorders. The cardiovascular system is affected and we might experience high blood pressure, and increased risk of heart attack. Stress also lowers our immune system making us more prone to infections and illness, and it can even affect the respiratory system, muscles and bones, digestive system, and the skin. Stress can be at the root of developing diabetes, weight gain and developing addictions.
A Study released out of Sweden monitored 100,000 people over 30 years. Those who had been diagnosed with a stress disorder like chronic stress or PTSD had a 30-40% higher likelyhood to develop an autoimmune disease (rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, endometriosis, autoimmune thyroid conditions, lupus and more) which underlines the high correlation between stress and physical illness.
Stress can make us physically sick and the stress itself and the physical manifestation of stress can cause emotional strain and often also impacts our sleep, especially the quality of sleep and how rested we feel when waking up in the morning.
Research suggests that 70% of sleeping problems are related psycho-physiological issues and only 15% each are related to the environment or medical issues. Increased cortisol levels impact our body’s ability to maintain melatonin levels that promote restful sleep. Many people wake up during the night, especially between 1am and 3am. According to Chinese medicine our organs work on a 24 hour clock, and the time between 1am and 3am is liver time, the time when the liver performs its regenerative functions. One thing the liver needs to carry out its restorative function is energy, and for that it uses glycogen from the body’s sugar stores. So if we spend the whole day stressed and with your blood sugar levels going up and down by the time it gets to 1am, there will not be enough glycogen left for the liver to carry out its regenerative functions. In this scenario, the body produces adrenaline as an energy source to compensate – and as adrenaline is designed to keep us awake, we will wake up and may have a hard time going back to sleep. That’s why managing stress levels is so important when we want to improve our quality and quantity of sleep.
So you can see, unmanaged stress can be at the root or contributing factor to many physical and emotional challenges we may be facing.