The other day I was giving a talk about food allergies and gut health to a group of mothers. I began explaining the immune system and gastrointestinal tract and how stress impacts that relationship. I was talking about how stress negatively impacts the gut flora which negatively impacts the immune system. Not one mom had heard about this connection and I’m not surprised. In a society crammed full with stressors around every corner, we rarely acknowledge the damage that stress has on ourselves, our children and our society.
Stressed out kids
When we are stressed, one of the main hormones released into the bloodstream is called cortisol. Cortisol is secreted from our adrenal glands which sit on top of our kidneys. Cortisol is a fight or flight hormone. So if a bear jumps into the room, your adrenal glands release cortisol so blood flow can be redirected away from the internal organs to the limbs and you can run away from the bear. Cortisol is essential to help us survive these emergent fight or flight moments. Luckily, encounters with bears aren’t an everyday thing for most of us. The problem is, your body doesn’t know the difference between a bear and an angry boss or an overdue bill or a looming deadline and we are constantly surrounded by these bears. We are always faced with stressors. We work with bears, live with bears, these bears cut us off in traffic or we go to school with bears. The consistent release of cortisol in response to these daily stressors negatively impacts gut health and not only for adults. Prenatal stress and stress in early life are associated with negative impacts on health, behavior, emotional and cognitive development and even issues with employment.
We are not meant to constantly be in fight or flight mode. Stress is a reality that comes with our modern life, but there are things we can do to help ourselves and our children destress. A healthy lifestyle with a nutritious whole food diet, exercise, and plenty of rest go a long way in helping us and our children manage stress. Try to remember the balance between activities and rest and avoid over-scheduling. Time outside in nature is particularly stress relieving and is an important thing for the whole family to join in.
Stress management techniques like deep breathing, yoga and mindfulness can be started at virtually any age. While nature walks and deep breathing aren’t the new, flashy miracle pill we are all looking for, they really can have big impacts on our stress response and lasting effects on our health. Today is the right day to start de-stressing yourself and family!
– Dr. Catherine Clinton