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What Does Stress Do To Your Body?

By December 27, 2020No Comments

Stress. What about it?

Rest assured, you have felt stressed before. Stress is inevitable, especially during these crazy times. You may associate stress with being bad and aim to eliminate it as a whole. Not only is this goal unrealistic, but stress and the body’s physiological reaction to stress are normal. Stress is your body’s innate reaction to your environment.  In fact, some acute levels of stress here and there is considered to be beneficial. Today we are going to discuss the impact of acute and chronic stress on your body, specifically related to your sleep, digestion, food choices, and mood!

Acute vs. Chronic stress

Acute stress is the stress that occurs short-term and suddenly in response to a threat in your environment like a presentation for work, missing the train, or getting pulled over by the police. During this time, your body pumps out cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), and some other hormones. This causes your heart to race, your breathing to increase, and your senses to sharpen, among others which works to prepare your body for a fight-or-flight response. The severity of the reaction varies. In some cases, it can be beneficial, enabling you to feel alert and motivated; in other cases, your body can overreact, resulting in severe headaches, digestive issues, and even a heart attack.  

Overall, a few episodes of acute stress is not the culprit of poor health. However, it is important to effectively manage your reaction to stressors so that you are not overreacting to small inconveniences like a traffic jam or spilling your coffee.  

Chronic stress is the stress that you feel consistently as a result of everyday stressors like work, family life, or past traumas. Under chronic stress, the body also responds by releasing the hormone cortisol, which will remain elevated, causing disruptions in your mood, sleep, appetite,  digestion, metabolism, and more until your body no longer perceives the stressor as a threat or until the stressor goes away.

The goal with both acute and chronic stress is to recognize what triggers you to feel stressed out and implement strategies to combat the sudden-rush of stress. This will then enable you to effectively manage stress and bypass associated adverse health outcomes. 

The Impact of Stress on your Sleep

Stress gets in the way of getting quality sleep and vice versa! Less quality sleep is associated with higher levels of stress. This pattern is not surprising given the role of cortisol in the stress response. Under normal (non-stressed) circumstances, cortisol levels are highest in the morning and decrease throughout the day enabling you to feel energized during the day and tired at night. In contrast, under chronic stress, your cortisol levels remain high throughout the day, keeping your body on high-alert, making it hard for your body to fall and stay asleep. 

If you find it hard to fall and stay asleep, it may be because of your unregulated high cortisol pattern throughout the day.

Some simple daily tips to help naturally lower your cortisol include: 

  • Meditation and breath work after waking and/or before bed 
  • Gentle exercise – yoga, pilates, walking (no cardio!) 
  • Eat balanced meals to regulate your blood sugar (protein, fat, complex-carbs at meals)
  • Stick to one cup of coffee per day and drink it before 12 pm

The Impact of Stress on your Metabolism and Food Choices

Stress impacts your nutrition choices and metabolism by disrupting your sleep (decision-making), hormones (appetite), and blood-sugar regulation (appetite), alternatively increasing your chances of digestive upset and weight gain.

Specifically, increased cortisol can cause insulin resistance, which means that your body is producing insulin, but your body is not responding to it effectively, resulting in your body producing even more insulin. Insulin is the hormone responsible for telling the body to take up glucose from the bloodstream and store it in liver, muscle, and fat cells in response to high blood sugar. You can think of this like continuously filling your gas tank and the gas-light never going off.  As you can imagine, this is problematic, as insulin signals to the body to store rather than burn, resulting in weight gain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol,  type 2 diabetes, and other related health conditions. 

Additionally, when you are stressed and tired, you probably find yourself reaching for the baked goods, chips, or anything quick and easy. This is actually a result of high cortisol and insulin levels coupled with your out-of-whack hunger hormones (ghrelin). Not to mention, food is a major coping and comfort mechanism for many of us in times of stress. 

Simple tips to combat stress eating: 

  • Don’t skip meals 
  • Eat balanced meals (protein+fat+complex carb)
  • Eat adequate amounts of protein (especially for breakfast!)
  • Bring awareness to the reason behind why you are stressed
  • Engage in other activities like meditation, or yoga
  • Add in some herbal, non caffeinated teas

Impact of Stress on Your Mood

Chances are when you are  feeling stressed you are also feeling irritable, anxious, depressed or all of the above. These feelings tend to disrupt your sleep and decision making, in turn impacting your food choices. 

Tips to help cope/combat stress and it’s symptoms: 

  • Build supportive relationships
  • Beware of excess drinking and smoking
  • Prioritize Sleep
  • Find time for yourself 
  • All of the tips listed above!

In Summary

Stress can be motivating and energizing or it can be debilitating by affecting your sleep, metabolism, food choices and mood. It is important to recognize that some level of stress is normal and stressors are pretty much unavoidable. The key to stress is learning ways to effectively manage it so that you can take control which comes down to your nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle choices.  

Need help making some lifestyle and nutrition choices so that you can better manage your stress? Click here to work with me!