What "Crazy-Busy" Does to Your Body

LA traffic

I’ve been to California a few times in my life, but never long enough to really see what life is like until my recent 5- day stay for a speakers’ training seminar. It was in the shuttle bus, on my way from the airport to my hotel, that it hit me. My childhood dream of California –  the land of sun, surf, endless blue skies and convertibles - was quickly being replaced by the reality of an LA traffic jam at 4 PM.

My driver, with a wonderful Russian accent, turned to me and started a conversation. He talked about how pervasive the traffic jams were and what times were best to drive. He thought 4 AM and 8 PM were best.

We finally arrived at my hotel. What a relief! All I wanted now was a nice dinner and a good night’s sleep in my quiet room on the 22nd floor with a comfy European bed and stark white linens.

Ahhh. I fell asleep OK, but was awakened around 3 AM by traffic noises below. Traffic at 3 AM?! I put in my earplugs and drifted off again until my phone alarm rang. Later, while waiting for a van to take me to my event, a hotel employee commented to me “LA is starting to feel like NYC – the city that never sleeps.”

Oh! My California dream was shattered! Even the cool, laid back state of California is succumbing to the pressures of today. With traffic noises starting at 3 AM, it makes me wonder how little people are sleeping and what that’s doing to their bodies. I wonder if they too feel stressed out and “crazy busy?”  

When it comes to understanding chronic, long-term stress, you could say I’m an expert. I’ve both seen and lived the effects both professionally and personally.

For many years, I loved the excitement of being an ICU and Recovery Room nurse. The work was fast-paced and intense and I loved it. You know what I’m talking about -the newer TV medical dramas actually depict things pretty realistically. Now add on some family responsibilities, irregular work hours and life stressors. And what do you eventually get after many years of this lifestyle? You guessed it. Burnout – one of the nursing professions’ biggest problems.

I was one of the lucky ones. I left the profession and recovered in a few months, thanks to my passion for holistic wellness and a supportive husband. I still have to be careful though. It turns out, I’m the genetic type that has a hard time getting rid of excess stress hormones. If I don’t do something to counteract my hair-trigger stress response, I will eventually have a depressed immune response and be vulnerable to getting sick.

While short-term stress is needed for us to feel alive and be motivated to work or be creative, long-term, chronic stress is very damaging. In fact, stress accounts for about 80% of doctors’ visits. Here’s a quick run-down of what stress can look like in our bodies, no matter what your age:

  • Brain – mood problems like anger, anxiety, irritability, depression; problems concentrating and sleeping; headaches, panic attacks.
  • Heart – increased heart rate and blood pressure; increased risk for thickened blood, heart attack and stroke; abnormal heart beats.
  • Immune System – decreased ability to fight off infections and recover from illness.
  • Digestive System – reflux, cramps, gas, nausea, diarrhea, constipation; decreased or increased appetite.
  • Endocrine System – blood sugar swings; increased cortisol (stress hormone); decreased adrenal and thyroid function.
  • Reproductive/Urinary System – decreased sex hormones, menstrual irregularities, low sperm count, infertility, stress incontinence.
  • Musculo-Skeletal System – increased muscle, joint, tendon, ligament aches, pains and injury; low bone density.

If you’re like most people, you’ve experienced several of these. The main concern is how intense have they been and for how long? Long-term, high intensity stress leads to disease – injured, unstable cells, organs and systems.

But wait . . .  there’s good news! You can buffer yourself against stress by learning what works for You to de-stress. Consider the following for starters:

  • prioritize eating 3 healthy meals daily – skipping meals makes you stressed and fat
  • sleep 8 hours nightly – your brain cleanses itself during sleep
  • view stress as a challenge, not a threat – a change of viewpoint
  • ask, “What have I learned about myself?” – self-reflection fosters mindfulness
  • find a way to experience calm, mindfulness, purpose and joy through activities that promote these feelings
  • do physical exercise that’s right for You – choose something you’ll actually do and enjoy
  • take a weekly bath with Epsom salt, Dead Sea salt and a few drops of organic Lavender essential oil before bed – your body relaxes and detoxes with the mineral salts and lavender aids sleep

Though it seems like the whole world is stressed out and “crazy busy” these days, you don’t have to be. Like everything, it’s a choice. What will You choose? “Crazy Busy” or “Calm & Collected”. It’s up to you.

Leave me a comment below and let me know where you experience stress in your body … and one thing you can change to de-stress.