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2020 has been a year filled with an overwhelming abundance of stress for just about everyone. Bills have been piling up, isolation has brought on a lot of loneliness, and uncertainty continues to loom. As this stress builds up from various sources, it becomes a part of your allostatic load which can ultimately have a big impact on your health.
Is that a foreign term to you? Don't worry–we'll start with the basics!
We'll also discuss what exactly that impact looks like and if you should really be concerned about it.
So, what is allostatic load? While we’re all familiar with what stress is, the term can be quite general as it doesn’t explain just how severe the stress may be. It also doesn't explain how the body handles stressful situations.
The term ‘allostasis’ was introduced to better explain the active process by which our bodies answer to the things that happen each day. At the same time, how it maintains balanced levels.
Allostasis refers to the body’s ability to stay stable amidst the changes it endures.
Allostatic load then refers to the wear and tear on the body that results from too much stress or poor management of allostasis. Poor management means failing to turn off the response when it's no longer required.
As your body stays in this constant state of anticipated stress, it creates a load on the body’s system.
You've probably guessed this by now, but this load of stress can have negative mental and physical effects on the body.
There are various types of allostatic load which can have mental and physical effects on a person.
These types of allostatic load involve an individual not turning on the proper response to begin with, or not adjusting to the recurrence of the same stressor. This ends up having a negative effect on allostatic response.
Ultimately, protection and damage are the two opposing sides of how the body works to defend against the challenges we face each and every day. Regardless of if we consider them to be stressful or not.
Allostatic overload takes place because of the cumulative effects of the body’s physiological stress response.
In turn, this can have a negative effect on your body, including long-term health problems, disease or even death.
As we explore allostatic load in a deeper sense, you quickly become aware that it comes with negative consequences.
Here are some of those potential mental and physical consequences.
Allostatic load has been linked to an increased risk in cardiovascular diseases. This most commonly includes ischemic heart disease, coronary heart disease and peripheral arterial disease. Those with allostatic load also report lower levels of well-being in their daily lives.
Chronic stress and allostatic load have been known to be present in early pregnancy, which suggests an association with preeclampsia. Allostatic load has also been known to have effects on pregnancy and birth outcomes.
Lower spine bone mineral density has been associated with high allostatic load levels. Lower neck strength has also been known to be affected by an increase in allostatic load.
Diabetics have shown to have higher allostatic load levels and display a disruption in their responses to stress. A higher blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart rate all can result from an increase in allostatic load.
This study found that women with breast cancer had elevated basal cortisol levels and higher allostatic load. Other cancer studies have also reported that allostatic load levels improved in correlation with affective symptoms and quality of life.
Depressive and anxiety systems are also linked to allostatic load. High allostatic load has also been associated with depression among various groups.
Psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia have been linked to allostatic load in previous studies. Higher levels of allostatic load have also been known to be found in patients during their initial psychotic episode.
No matter what type of trauma it is, allostatic load can have an effect on the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. This could be early childhood trauma, pregnancy trauma, and more.
If you’re experiencing chronic stress and heavy allostatic load, you’ll want to do everything you can to reduce it, so let's get into how to reduce allostatic load. While allostatic load will not always result in the most extreme consequences, the health effects can still be very serious.
Now that we've discussed the toll an increased allostatic load can take, let’s go over four useful ways to reduce it.
Your social connections can make an incredible difference in your ability to reduce allostatic load.
Even though social distancing protocols have made it more difficult to spend time with the people we care about, it can be necessary for reducing stress. Try to keep up with text messages and regular video calls in order to stay connected. Outdoor visits are also a great option!
A healthy routine can make a big difference in our ability to deal with stressful situations mentally.
Physical stress actually ends up helping with the reduction of mental stress. That's because exercise helps reduce the body’s stress hormones while also promoting endorphin production.
(By the way, we talk more about allostasis, the HPA axis, and stress hormonesin this post)
Endorphins work as a natural mood booster and allow you to enter into a happier state. Sometimes even just 10 minutes of exercise in a day can make a big difference to your mental and physical health.
Learning how to meditate could be just what you need to help reduce stress as well as allostatic load.
As you practice meditation more and more, it becomes easier to maintain the habit and build resilience to stress over time.
Meditation can help transform how a person experiences and deals with the stress in their life. As you become more mindful and aware, your stress levels start to lower.
You can learn more about getting started with meditation with this simple five minute meditation.
Vagus nerve stimulation can effectively reduce stress, and therefore lessen the likelihood of a high allostatic load–it helps balance the nervous system and promotes the relaxation response. These effects can help with anything from your mood and calmness to digestion and sleep.
Stress and allostatic load are specifically managed by VNS as the vagus nerve tells the body to relax. This takes place with the release of acetylcholine and norepinephrine. These chemicals help balance out the stress release hormone released by the sympathetic nervous system.
(We talk more about the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systemsin this blog post.)
For many people, one of the most effective and minimally invasive ways to stimulate the vagus nerve is with Xen by Neuvana. This technology makes it easier than ever to stimulate the vagus nerve from the comfort of your own home.
Simply pair the Xen by Neuvana headphones with the Neuvana app on your smartphone and allow the left earbud to transmit a gentle electrical signal. This signal can stimulate and, in turn, strengthen and tone the vagus nerve.
The best part is, you can even listen to your favorite songs with the headphones and stimulate the vagus nerve all at the same time. With use overtime, Xen can reduce the impact of stress and lighten the weight of allostasis.
If you would like to learn more about Xen by Neuvana, be sure to read through our FAQs page. You're better prepared to manage stress when you understand it!
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