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Stressed? Burning the candle at both ends?

Stressed? – You have probably heard the age-old expression “burning the candle at both ends” before. But when it comes to our health, why does this phrase fit so well?

The candle symbolizes our life force or vitality. By burning the candle at both ends, we are using up our life force too quickly. We are on the path to exhausting all our resources and the vitality that encompasses wellbeing.

Our lifestyles begin to reflect this as well. We are working too much. Resting too little. Neglecting our nutrition. Going to bed late. Getting up early. Constantly living in a state of ‘stress’.

When we delve into how stress is classically defined, it is any stimulus that disrupts the body’s internal balance. How we re-establish this balance is through an intricate web of physiological and behavioral adaptive responses. This is where countless neuroendocrine hormones such as – cortisol, adrenalin, insulin to growth hormones are called upon to regulate homeostasis and respond to the threat.

So, in any given moment, whether we perceive that we are ‘stressed’ or not, the processes that our body naturally goes through to essentially keep us safe is quite remarkable.

Recognizing what we can when we are stressed

Stress also goes far beyond what we perceive or recognize as emotional or psychological stress, or even the acute stress we felt from a deadline at work the other day.

Through a holistic lens, there are certain factors as practitioners that we need to consider may also be stressors and adding to the load placed on someone’s overall health.

Some of these factors might include –

  • environmental
  • toxins or chemical stressors
  • acute and chronic infections
  • gut health – leaky gut, dysbiosis, food intolerances/sensitivities
  • chronic low-grade inflammation (cardiometabolic health, weight challenges)
  • lack of or excessive exercise
  • poor sleep habits and circadian rhythms
  • undereating and overeating
  • sugar, alcohol, caffeine
  • hydration
  • nutritional deficiencies
  • prescription/pharmaceutical medications
  • financial stress
  • relationship stress
  • career stress – workload/work environment and commute, study etc.
  • negative attitudes and beliefs

Although this is not an exhaustive list, we can start to see where stress may be cumulative in our lives and understand the burden it may be placed on our health. Stress can impact the very chemistry of our bodies.

Chronic Exposure

Chronic exposure to stress has been linked with compromising core mental, digestive, reproductive, immune, and metabolic functions. With a growing evidence-based and anecdotal representation supporting the connection to significant stress-related health conditions such as anxiety, depression, autoimmunity, digestive disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, memory and cognitive impairments, thyroid abnormalities, and sex hormone imbalances.

As the list of stressors that we experience daily grows and the innate resources we have to deal with stress becomes overwhelmed our need to support our body’s ability to cope with stress is vital and cannot be underestimated.

We can only burn the candle at both ends for so long before we meet in the middle and have nothing left to burn. It’s the same thing in our body.

Stressed – Modern Challenges

One of the greatest health challenges in our modern environment is that there are countless factors, both internal and external to us, that leave us on the receiving end of this survival “fight or flight” response. Combined with the awareness of where these factors exist in our own lives, we need to actively seek out alternative routes – where we choose not to continue down the path of the constant rush that requires the giving away of our energy and resources every day, without equally giving back to ourselves and our health.

It is about re-defining a new path where we are taking intentional steps, no matter how small they start out to be, to allow our nervous systems to find balance in the day. To reconnect, rest and allow ourselves to take a deep breath. To stop burning the candle at both ends, and to finally re-ignite the life force that exists in all of us.

References:

Chrousos, George. (2009). Stress and disorders of the stress system. Nature reviews. Endocrinology. 5. 374-81. 10.1038/nrendo.2009.106.

Kinlein, S. A., Wilson, C. D., & Karatsoreos, I. N. (2015). Dysregulated hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function contributes to altered endocrine and neurobehavioral responses to acute stress. Frontiers in psychiatry, 6, 31.

 

Author – Danielle Svensson