Happy New Year! As we move forward into the start of 2020, many “Resolutioners” will be looking forward to changing diet, exercise routines, and other aspects of life with hopes to reach better health. However, many of us fail to understand what the definition of health truly is. Some will say health is feeling well, with the absence of symptoms. Wikipedia says health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being. These definitions are not wrong by any means, but they can be misleading. The way I like to define health is “the body’s ability to successfully adapt to stress.”
When we talk about stress, particularly regarding health, what comes to mind most often is the mental-emotional side of stress. While handling this is vital to overall health, it is important that we don’t overlook the other stressors that we encounter on a routine basis. In fact, there are three main types of stress to which we must be able to successfully adapt in order to be healthy. In addition to mental-emotional stress, there is also physical stress and biochemical stress. An easy way to remember these components is by referring to them as the “3 Ts of Stress,” which are Traumas, Thoughts, and Toxins.
Traumatic stress comes in the form of both macro- and micro-traumas. Macro-traumas are big, impactful, usually one-time events such as car accidents, sports injuries, or slips and falls. Examples of micro-traumas include every day physical stressors such as repetitive movements, work requirements, postural issues, and even things like sleep position. Both macro- and micro-traumas have an impact on our physical health and can lead to things such as overuse injuries, muscle imbalances, and degenerative changes.
Thoughts refer the the mental-emotional side of stress which I mentioned a bit ago. These are things like worry, fear, guilt, anxiety, and depression. There is no doubt that mental-emotional health has an impact not only on our mind, but on our body as well. While we are under this type of stress, our bodies tend to instinctively flip into fight-or-flight mode. Fight-or-flight is a natural coping mechanism meant to deal with short-term situations, such as running from danger or fighting to protect ourselves. However, when under long-term mental-emotional stress, prolonged fight-or-flight systems can lead to physical side effects such as high blood pressure, decreased gut health, and weight gain.
Toxins are the third and final “T” of stress, and this refers to the things that we put into our bodies on a daily basis. Whether it be the food we eat, the medications we take, or even the air we breathe, we subject our bodies to foreign substances every day. Many of these foreign substances are unnatural to the body, and can lead to physical changes within the body. The most impactful physical change as a response to toxins is increased systemic inflammation, which we know is a root cause of almost all chronic diseases.
While the “3 Ts of Stress” are things that are virtually unavoidable, it is important to remember that a truly healthy body will be able to successfully adapt to and overcome these stressors. Things like exercise and professional body work can allow us to successfully adapt to traumas. Meditation, mindfulness practice, and prayer are examples of ways to adapt to mental-emotional stressors. Following a clean diet, using proper supplements, and the occasional detox cleanse can help us adapt to the everyday toxins we encounter. Don’t let stress prevent a healthy 2020!
Yours in Health, Dr. Alex