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The Science of Stress: How it Makes Us Sick and What to Do About It

Living with stress can make you feel like a tiny, helpless robot trying to navigate through an operating system that’s been corrupted. It seems every task and challenge is just another step closer to a total breakdown as our bodies grapple with the weight of excessive stress. Women, who are more physiologically hardwired for harsh environmental cues, find themselves even more susceptible to feelings of burnout and inescapable tension. But instead of succumbing to perpetual exhaustion or avoiding the matter altogether, we have a better option: diving into the science of stress! In this blog post, we’ll explore why it makes us so sick (hormones aren’t helping) and how we can develop healthier strategies for managing it, using some helpful evidence-based tips along the way!

Stress Gives Illness 

If I had a tomato for every time a woman asked me, “Dr. Purcell, do you think stress might have caused this?” I would be in the salsa business. 

Indeed, it cannot be denied that stress has as detrimental an effect on our health as poor diet and a lack of exercise. It is known to have caused decreased immunity, rashes, dry skin, and numerous health problems ranging from cold sores and shingles to autoimmune diseases. 

Unmanaged stress exposes our body to an extended period of low-grade inflammation, leading to an accumulation of toxins in the cells, which contribute significantly to illness. Long-term exposure to elevated stress levels and hormones produces effects that are more wide-reaching than we can imagine. Stress needs, therefore, to be taken seriously if a healthy life is desired.


Women Being More Vulnerable


How does stress make us sick?

Women are four times more likely to develop an autoimmune condition than men. Many things have been explored, and the reasoning behind them is inconclusive. I have been working with women for 20 years, and the thing I know about women is that we are circular beings.


We do not compartmentalize parts of our lives. Instead, we bring it all together. We teased through it. Men, on the other hand, tend to be more linear beings. They find broken things and fix them. It’s more of a hammer and a nail approach. As women, we feel things, internalize them, and mold them. We find solutions, considering all the parties involved. And honestly, we try to please everyone along the way. 

This makes us more complicated in how we relate to the world and how the strains of the world press in on us. 

So when we encounter an obstacle, also known as life not going as planned, it generates emotions in us, and the greater the life stressor, the stronger the emotion.

We, women, possess extraordinary powers of resilience in the face of stress. Our uniquely equipped bodies are able to adapt and thrive, with wildly different reactions depending on our specific situation. By activating fight or flight mode, we can react quickly and intelligently, unleashing a powerful wave of adrenaline as an ally when faced with difficulty.


Flight or Fight

Life-and-death situations require a lot of physical exertion, and this surge of adrenaline is meant to help humans rapidly react to physical threats and then release them, not stew over them all night, sleepless with things that may or may not happen. 

When it comes to crises, our reactions can range from the mundane, such as receiving an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) letter, to more traumatic experiences like recurring night terrors. These situations produce stress responses that often become entrenched and difficult for us to move past without aid.

Since we’re not physically running away from anything, these stress hormones that are released don’t get used up. They get stuck inside our bodies, inside our cellular tissue, causing all kinds of cellular damage and waste, inflaming organs, and definitely the nervous system. Needless to say, chronic stress is exhausting and can leave us feeling very edgy.

Tension, Tension, Tension

There are things that can make us feel stressed, like when we have too much work to do or are worried about something. There are also things in the environment that can stress our bodies out, like chemicals in the air or food, electromagnetic frequencies, pollution, and general overwhelm from home or work.

Dealing with stress may be a difficult battle, but it’s important to recognize the physical effects that come along with it. When our bodies are triggered by tension, we experience an overload of hormones, which can cause increased heart rate and blood pressure as well as digestive issues like constipation and even gastric reflux. Our bodies undergo a wide range of reactions to stress, from warmth in our extremities to shallow breaths and chills. 

When it comes to our mental health, an unfocused mind is not one that serves us well. Whether we’re feeling irritated or are unable to make decisions quickly and easily, a lack of focus can really start weighing on us. 

What do we do when we feel all this pressure upon us?

Often, we default to negative behaviors like waking up earlier, going to bed later, working more hours, working harder, and beating ourselves up with criticism and negative self-talk. Or sometimes, we just say, “Forget it. I’m just going to eat the pizza. Why should I bother?” These defaults are a quick fix. However, in the long run, they drain our precious energy.

Have you ever had like three drinks one night and woken up at 3:00 AM with a headache and your mouth is parched? Alcohol disrupts sleep, and sleep is necessary to function well the next day. So we shoot ourselves right in the foot.


Replacing Behaviors 

When we’re tempted to turn to negative behaviors, let’s practice replacing them with healthy ones.

Go for a walk. Shake it off. Burn up some of this stress. 

Let’s have an apple: nice, juicy, and crisp. 

Call a friend 

Or put on some music. 

Whatever works for you, you should do it.

Take a moment right now to think about how you react to stress. Do you react to stressors, or do you respond to stressors?

When your knee-jerk reactions start to take over, it’s time for a shift. Take control of the situation and replace those auto-responses with mindful decisions that can make all the difference in how you respond—not just react.

Reattaching to Reality 

Body awareness. 

Moving from unconsciousness to consciousness is an essential process for our self-growth. By connecting the head with the body, we can become aware of how we’re feeling and identify these emotions without judgment. Perhaps fear or insecurity is how we’re feeling, and we can identify these emotions without judgment. 

Call them out:

“I feel stressed.”

“I feel scared.” 

“I feel insecure.” 

“I feel like I don’t have any confidence.”

It’s okay to have uncomfortable feelings.


Choose some self-care. 

As women, we need to practice exquisite daily self-care. We fall short on this one big time. 


We cannot sacrifice our workouts. 

We can’t sacrifice good food or time for ourselves.


It is essential for your well-being. 


When those tough emotions hit and you already have self-care in place, it’s going to be a lot easier for you to stay grounded and not reach for the sugar and the wine, or only have one glass of wine because you know you have a workout the next morning. 


At the moment when we feel the adrenaline surging, the question becomes, “What can I do to help myself manage stress?”


The stress cycle starts when we have thoughts that make us feel bad. The emotions make the stress worse. But we can stop the cycle. It’s called a Pattern Disconnect. We need to do something physical to stop it.

Techniques to Calm and Reconnect

By connecting the heart and head, we’re on our way to mastering creative ways for you to handle stress. Let me share these six incredible techniques that help calm your nervous system and are designed especially for reconnecting both mind and body.

  1. Breathe in a Box technique. 

Inhale deeply to the count of four.

Hold for a count of four.

Exhale for a count of four. 

Do this four times, like you’re breathing in a box. 


  1. Movement. 

I’m a big fan of going for a walk and shaking it out. The goal is to get back into your body. Swing those arms, pump those legs, or take a brisk 10-minute walk. Another option is to just pull out your yoga mat, pull up a YouTube tutorial, and do a 20-minute flow.  

Body movement generates positive chemicals for counteracting cortisol and dopamine—all of the brain chemistry that gets disrupted.

  1. Get black to your physical body

Sometimes you’re trapped in an office at a desk during a meeting and can’t move around. What are you going to do? Focus on getting back into your physical body.

Roll your shoulders.

Contract and then release muscles, especially your thigh muscles.

Make sure your legs are uncrossed and put your feet firmly on the floor.

Practice gripping with your toes. 


  1. Positive affirmations

A little self-love can go a long way. It’s releasing negative self-talk, which is stopping the Should Shovel: “I should. I should, I should.”

No, you shouldn’t. Pivot to life-affirming thoughts such as

“I choose to …” 

“I want to…”
“I trust that life is unfolding.” 

“Life loves me,” and 

I got stronger with each breath.” 


Create an empowering mantra and let it inspire you to be the best version of yourself.


  1. Give yourself some grace


One of the quickest ways to intercept all this stress is just to say, “Hey, I was born under the law of grace. There’s enough grace to go around. I just need to sprinkle some on myself right now.” 


The truth is, imperfections are what truly build us and make us an asset to others in this world.

6. Practice Gratitude

If there’s a challenge blocking your way, try taking a moment to jot down three things you’re grateful for on the back of that coffee shop napkin. It might help bring perspective and see opportunities when it feels like all hope is lost.

A quote I absolutely love is this: “It’s not happy people who are grateful; it’s grateful people who are happy.”

If happiness is not knocking on your door, go out there and invite it in.

In conclusion, as much as stress has become a required part of life, it does not have to be the only thing we rely on for motivation and energy. This article reminds us that we must take care when dealing with stress before it becomes an illness by learning from our mistakes and striving for better. We need to recognize what puts us into flight or fight mode while also learning and practicing relaxation techniques that are crucial to reattaching ourselves to reality and learning healthy ways of coping with difficult situations. It is essential to nurture yourself during times of difficulty by replacing automatic behaviors with mindful, compassionate ones that are appropriate for each situation, instead of relying on numbing experiences like television or alcohol. Take a deep breath and give yourself permission to slow down in moments that feel overwhelming. Don’t forget to reach out if you need help, so schedule a discovery call today!


Do you want to better manage stress and other issues while also gaining knowledge on natural medicine? If so, why not take one small step towards optimizing your health by heading over to my website? You can acquire valuable guidance about all the benefits of natural remedies with just a few clicks. Plus, personalized advice is available too with a free discovery call, in case you rather consult with an expert. That way, understanding all the detail behind these healing approaches comes naturally without any stress. 


Looking to join an inspiring community of like-minded individuals in pursuit of better health? Come visit our Private Facebook Community and get connected!




DISCLAIMER:  The information in this email is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content is for general informational purposes only and does not replace a consultation with your own doctor/health professional

Dr. Andrea Purcell

A trusted and well-respected Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Purcell has been in private practice for over twenty years. Dr. Purcell is a published author and has a women’s specialty practice for hormone balancing, weight loss, mystery illness, and gastro-intestinal concerns. Dr. Purcell assists her patients by identifying the underlying cause of disease and removing obstacles that impede the body's natural ability to heal. Drugs and surgery are used as a last resort. She believes that increasing health on the inside shines through to the outside.