As humans we are designed to undergo stress. Stress within your comfort zone can help you perform under pressure, motivate you to do your best, even keep you safe when danger arises. But when one experiences a major stressor in life or experiences stress all too often, it can greatly damage your health, weight loss attempts, mood, relationships and quality of life.
So let’s break it down – stress is the body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, your heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, breath often quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed your reaction time and enhance your focus. The hormone cortisol, which is released from the adrenal glands, causes insulin to be dumped into the blood stream and consequently increases blood sugar. Now, this is something that would be useful if you need to outrun a hungry lion (as you would in the caveman days) however less so if the perceived threat is among many of the chronic stressors of the modern world, such as meeting a work deadline. Beyond your comfort zone, stress stops being helpful and can start causing serious consequences for your health.
Stress may affect:
Digestive Health – When stress activates the ‘flight or fight’ response, digestion significantly slows down because cortisol moves blood away from the digestive tract and instead toward the muscles and brain. Furthermore, research also proves that chronic stress has the ability to alter gut microbiota (the balance of bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract) in an unfavourable manner, which we all know wreaks havoc on digestion!
Weight Gain – Have ever wondered why you can’t budge that lower belly fat no matter how many how hard you try? When under long term stress, both insulin and cortisol remain elevated in the blood which causes extra glucose in the blood stream to get stored as fat, mostly in the lower abdomen. Excess cortisol production has also been linked to sugar and fat cravings, so feel free to blame cortisol for all those sneaky muffins you grab on coffee runs when under the pump at work.
Energy Levels – Stress is directly linked to feelings of fatigue, which is often due to overworked adrenal glands. Prolonged stress can also interfere with sleeping and cause insomnia, leading to difficulty concentrating, irritability and a lack of motivation.
Hormonal Imbalance – As discussed, stress fundamentally alters the body’s hormone balance, due to the overproduction or underproduction of cortisol and adrenalin. This can lead to decreased fertility, skin breakouts, adrenal dysfunction and decreased immune function.
Mental Health – Significantly, all of these detrimental health outcomes have disadvantageous effects on your mood and mental health, including a higher chance of experiencing anxiety and depression.
Stress Management – what you can do:
- Identify what’s causing your stress: Once you know what’s bothering you, develop a plan for addressing it. Setting reasonable expectations can go a long way, as we often lose track of this when we are stressed. Writing things down is also a great way to de-stress and to-do lists can do wonders for productivity.
- Eat a healthy diet: Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress. Start your day with a healthy breakfast, reduce your sugar intake, add plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit into your diet and just eat real food. If you need further assistance in this area, please book in with one of our Nutritionists here at The Natural Nutritionist (TNN) to get you on your way to better health.
- Exercise: Exercising regularly can lift your mood and help relieve stress, anxiety, anger and frustration. It can also serve as a distraction to your worries, allowing you to find some quiet time and break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed stress and anxiety. Working up a sweat will help burn off excess energy and leave you well rested at night.
- Get plenty of sleep: Feeling tired can increase stress by causing you to think irrationally. Keep your cool in stressful situations by getting a good night’s sleep.
- Take time out for yourself: Whether it be as simple as taking a warm bath, reading a book, taking a few moments in the day to meditate, practice yoga or get a massage.
- Consider Adrenal Hormone Profile testing: To clarify whether stress is the cause of any unwanted symptoms you are experiencing, TNN offers simple salivary testing procedures to determine adrenal function in those presenting with symptoms such as anxiety, depression, mood swings, insomnia, headaches, low energy, stress, hormonal imbalance and poor immune function. An adrenal imbalance is one of the most common barriers to fat loss we see in clinic and is extremely detrimental to performance and recovery. Read more about our testing methods here.
- Professional help: If you feel more serious issues are at play please consider talking to a Psychologist. Chronic stress is not normal and stress management is an essential part of optimal health and wellness.
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