The Toxic Effects of Stress

"Stress is any reaction or emotion that triggers a response from the sympathetic nervous system and initiates the "fight or flight" response OR any informational input that adds a new burden to your internal conversation."

~ Marcelle pick, MSN, Ob/GYN nP



Recently I found myself experiencing a lot of stress... again! Not the kind of stress from fear, worry, life threatening or bad things happening, but rather the kind from "spinning too many plates" or having too many things on my mind that I am responsible for and need to take care of. And then there's the continued healing treatments for my back injury. Oh, and don't even get me started with the information overload of the internet in general, corruption pretty much everywhere, and devastating natural disasters ....OH MY!!! 

With a history of adrenal challenges, when I find myself not being able to sleep, gaining weight, exhausted and inflamed in my body, irritable and not wanting to socialize, and especially experiencing and caving in to cravings for less than healthy food choices, I know that it's time to take a look at things and make changes.


Stress is the accumulation of normal and abnormal pressures of daily living that test the individual's ability to cope. Chronic stress - real or perceived, physical, emotional, or environmental - takes a tremendous toll on the body, mind, and spirit, and is a major cause of disease and even death. When the body's stress response is always on, the constant surge of chemicals and the increase in heart rate and blood pressure causes the stress to become "toxic" in both the brain and the body.


Dr. Robin Berzin lists the following 10 reasons why stress is the most dangerous toxin in your life:

  1. Chemicals produced by stress turn on or off genes that effect how much fat you store, how well your immune system works, how fast you age, and whether or not you will develop cancer.
  2. Stress experienced in childhood determines your "set point" for turning on your stress levels in the future.
  3. High levels of stress hormones damage critical parts of the brain.
  4. Stress shuts down the immune system and increases inflammation.
  5. Chronic stress damages your mitochondria, the energy powerhouses of the body.
  6. Stress reduces your ability to metabolize fats and detoxify drugs. It can also increase your toxic burden by increasing cravings for high fat, high sugar foods.
  7. Chronic stress increases the thickness of artery walls leading to high blood pressure and heart disease.
  8. Stress causes less sex hormones to be available to your cells, and chronic stress results in fewer sex hormones being produced.
  9. Stress lowers bone mineral density and causes more physical pain.
  10. Stress slows gut transit time, increases overgrowth of bad bacteria, and contributes to leaky gut syndrome - which leads to inflammation, food sensitivities, and autoimmune disease.


"The tricky part here is that your brain will try to buy you extra time by convincing you to turn to cheap and easy forms of support, like lattes and candy bars. But living on these quick and easy supplies is like paying all your bills with a credit card: At some point those debts must be paid, and if you don't have enough money in the bank you'll be in for a whole lot of trouble."



Stress is everywhere and isn't bad in and of itself. In fact, it is necessary for our growth and expansion. The goal should not be to avoid all stress, but to seek balance, and to maintain a high degree of health so that one handles and survives stress well.

Personally, when I find myself reaching for lattes & muffins to start or get through my day, it makes me even more stressed. Caffeine and sugar are both stimulants that cause the "fight or flight" response - basically telling us that we are running from a tiger - making everything SEEM worse than it really is!


Stress management involves both the use of techniques designed to reduce the amount of stress the body has to deal with, as well as to counteract the effects of stress. This includes nutritional support, physical activity, adequate sleep, fresh air, sunshine, play, relaxation techniques, and self care. 

Regular exercise leads to an increased ability to cope with stress and reduces the risk of stress-related diseases. When choosing what kind of exercise, note that aerobic exercises usually cause you to breathe through your mouth - which creates the "fight or flight" response in the body. So when looking to reduce stress, choose yoga, stretching, and walking where you can focus on breathing through your nose - which creates the "relaxation" response. 

And, while an individual may relax simply by sleeping, watching TV or reading a book, relaxation techniques such as meditation, prayer, biofeedback, and self-hypnosis, and self-care modalities such as counseling, chiropractic, massage, and acupuncture are much more effective in producing the "relaxation" response - which is designed for repair, maintenance, and restoration of the body.

If, like me, you're "juggling a lot of plates" you may be wondering when you're going to find the time to do all these things. I'm reminded of the old Zen saying, "You should meditate 20 minutes a day, unless you're too busy; then you should sit for an hour."

Once again, I needed to read my own blog, Healthy Ways To Start Your Day, and take care of ME first! Trust me, when our well is filled up and we are more relaxed, everything flows more smoothly. 


Happy, Healthy Living!

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JoAnn Newton is a Holistic Nutrition Educator and Master Massage Therapist with a private practice in Graton, CA.

Passionate about helping people transform their health through holistic nutrition, she facilitates the 23 day online Nutritional E-Cleanse Program with coaching, compassion, and humor.