The Invisible Lion: Why Chronic Stress Makes Us Sick and What To Do About It

Have you ever felt like you had so much to do that you couldn't focus on anything? Have you laid awake at night unable to sleep because your mind is racing? Do you feel tired and irritable more of the time than you would like?

You may be suffering from the symptoms of chronic stress. We have all been there. This blog post is here to give you some practical ways to tap into your body’s natural resilience, so you can take control of stress.

First, let’s start with a little bit of the science behind why chronic stress makes you feel lousy.

The Science of Stress

We have two branches of our nervous system the sympathetic (our fight-or-flight response) and our parasympathetic (our rest-and-digest system) [1]. These systems are always working in balance so that our bodies effortlessly respond to the environment.  

The parasympathetic or rest and digest branch of the nervous system governs recovery, digestion, reproduction, sleep, immunity, mood regulation, attention control, and everything else that helps us to thrive in our day-to-day lives [1,2].

The sympathetic or fight-or-flight branch of the nervous system is focused entirely on ensuring survival when threat is present (for example, running from a lion!).

When something makes you go on high alert (fight-or-flight), the rest and digest system is put on the back burner so that you can respond rapidly to get to safety [1,2]. What good is digesting your food if you get eaten by a lion? You need to run! So, in threatening situations, your heart rate goes up, blood is diverted to your skeletal muscles, and the fear center in your brain is activated to get you away from the threat. This results in low heart rate variability (HRV), the rate of change of the heartbeat over time, which is our most reliable measure of resilience and recovery from stress [2].

Once you escape the threat, the rest and digest system should quickly take over again, bringing your heart rate back down to normal and letting your mind relax [1,2]. This results in increased HRV, signaling that our bodies are safe enough to move into energy recovery mode.

The problem is that chronic stress from modern life is constantly sending signals to our bodies that were under threat. This excess of activity in our fight-or-flight response has real consequences for our wellbeing and our long-term health.

Left unchecked, stress increases the risk of developing chronic health conditions such as insomnia, anxiety disorders, depression, chronic pain, memory loss, metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease, and even birth defects in our children [3-25], often associated with low HRV [2]. Chronic stress also disrupts personal well-being, relationships, and sexual activity. As we all know, stress commonly interferes with our ability to be kind and good-natured with our kids and our friends. While low HRV predicts poor sleep, focus, and an elevated risk of physical and mental illness, high HRV predicts resilience, consistent performance, better sleep, and lower chances of getting sick [2].

There are two extremely important takeaways here that will change your life:

Feeling poorly due to chronic stress is not your fault

Remember, your nervous system is out of balance from persistent stress. Chronic stress is like kryptonite to humans. No one is immune to it.

Practice makes perfect

If you’ve spent years being stressed out and managing that stress in ways that might not be the most effective or most constructive, that’s what your body has learned. You did your best. It’s not your fault.

Ok, so what do I do to take control of stress?

Breathe

But wait we all know how to breathe, right? Sure, but slow mindful breathing has incredible benefits for our bodies and minds. It can help you fall asleep faster, focus better, and take control over your heart rate [26-29].

How to get started:

  1. Purse your lips as if you are whistling, but without making a sound.
  2. Breathe in through your mouth; notice that by moving your lips very slightly and gently, you can change the speed and amount of air moving into your mouth and lungs.
  3. Feel the air moving in and out of your whole body: lips, throat, windpipe, lungs, and repeat.

Remember its best to try to exhale at least a little bit longer than you inhale.

Move

Regular exercise is important for stress recovery [19-25]. It can help you sleep better and feel better. So go on take a walk, go for a swim, dance, move your way.

Sleep

Sleep is the single most important thing that you can do to recover from stress [2, 6-8]. When you get your 68 hours of sleep (whatever your sweet spot for a restful sleep is) on a regular basis, you will notice that you feel better during the day, get sick less often, have more energy and are in a better mood.

Lastly, new tools that can accelerate your recovery from stress are available now.

Getting good sleep, eating well, exercising, meditating, and doing all the things we should do to be healthy in mind and body is really hard when we are already stressed out.

We know from science that incorporating new healthy routines like meditation and exercise is much harder to do when we feel tired and stressed.  This is because stress creates excess activity in the fear center in our brains, making it much easier to follow our old routines than to take up new ones.

This is where Apollo comes in.

Apollo is a breakthrough product that can help with focus, sleep, and stress recovery.

Apollo is a wearable that uses gentle vibration to facilitate rapid recovery from stress through your sense of touch [30-39].

When you use Apollo, gentle waves of vibration are sent from the wearable to your skin signaling safety to the body and mind, just like deep breathing and soothing touch [2, 26-29, 30-39]. Studies show that Apollo increases physical recovery, mental performance under stress, access to meditative states and helps users reach relaxation before bed rapidly, without side effects, and without the need for medicine.

As a physician who treats those with stress-related illness including PTSD, depression, and addiction, I know how hard it can be to overcome stress. I helped to develop the Apollo technology during my research at the University of Pittsburgh to offer everyone a tool they can use wherever they need it, whenever they need it.

You control the Apollo wearable with a mobile app that offers programs that can help you feel more energized, focus your attention, and get better sleep.

Chronic stress can leave us feeling tired, irritable, unhappy and distracted. In the long term, it can damage our health [2]. Apollo and strategies like it, such as music, meditation, mindful breathing, regular exercise, and therapeutic touch offer opportunities to recover from stress so we can feel better, sleep well and get back to being ourselves.


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