We all have some level of stress, right?
It may be temporary (acute), or long-term (chronic).
Acute stress usually won’t mess with your health too much. It’s your body’s natural reaction to circumstances and it can be live-saving. Then, when the “threat” (AKA – stressor) is gone, the reaction subsides and all is well.
Examples of acute stress: getting over a case of bronchitis, preparing for a public speech, dreading a meeting with your boss, planning the PTA fundraiser, etc. All of those things have an END….they don’t go on forever.
It’s chronic stress that becomes a problem.
You see, your body has specific stress reactions that are in play to help you get through times of acute stress. You now…those times mentioned above or for when you have to run from a tiger or lift a car off a child.
If these stress reactions are triggered every day, or many times a day, the chemical reactions that occur within your body begin to have negative consequences instead of positive ones.
Stress (and stress hormones) can have a huge impact on your health.
Let’s dive into the “stress mess.”
Mess #1: Weight Gain
When the body perceives you to be under stress, it does not know whether you are running from a tiger or if you are just trying to survive the in-laws. Heck, it may not even realize you are planning your wedding and the stress is actually good stress! Regardless of WHY – the body’s reaction is the same. It reverts back to primal, reflexive reactions to SAVE YOUR LIFE. This means, your body will ALWAYS think you are running from a tiger if it senses stress.
What is required to successfully outrun a tiger? (Besides lots of luck!) First, your body needs extra glucose (sugar) in the blood stream so your muscles have energy to run! However, your muscles can’t use this blood sugar – it must first have insulin present. Insulin is a chemical messenger that “allows” your cells to let glucose into them to be used for fuel.
BUT, if your cells are already fed and really don’t need that fuel….because, hey, you really aren’t running from a tiger – you are sitting at your desk, day after day, worrying about bills, your marriage, your troubled child, or whatever – the cells will REJECT that glucose and insulin. The cells simply don’t need to be fed, thus, they can ignore that extra glucose and insulin for now.
Insulin’s second job is to STORE FUEL for later – ie…fat storage. So, if that extra glucose your body gave you to handle the stressful time isn’t used, it’s going to be stored as fat.
Mess #2: Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Not only does the weight gain mentioned above contribute to your risk for cardiovascular disease (ie…heart attack or stroke), a chronic stress response contributes to chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is the foundation for multiple health issues including cardiovascular disease.
This is because it can cause your body to have “thicker” blood and it can also cause your cells to “resist” insulin (mentioned above) and contribute to metabolic syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes – both of which are primary risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Mess #3: Reduced Immunity
Ever notice that you get sick more often when you are stressed? Maybe you get colds, cold sores, or even stomach ailments more frequently when feeling stressed.
This is because stress hormones affect the chemical messengers that are secreted by your immune cells. These chemical messengers are called “cytokines” and they play a very important role in your body’s defense. When under chronic stress, the cytokines are not at complete working capacity. Thus, these cells become less effective at fighting off illness.
Mess #4: Sleep Disruption
Stress and sleep go hand-in-hand. It’s often difficult to sleep when you have very important (and stressful) things on your mind.
If you don’t get enough sleep, it affects your energy level, mood, memory, ability to think clearly, immunity, and weight regulation.
More and more research is showing just how important sleep is for overall health and well-being.
Notice Any Trends Here??
If you’ve read this entire article, you are likely to notice that all of these problems are intertwined and ALL can lead to repeated cycles of weight gain, cardiovascular disease, failed immunity, and poor sleep.
This is not a linear process, but an ongoing, cyclic process that feeds upon itself.
THIS is where the problem lies.
One must address multiple aspects of health to truly remedy the issue. For example, trying to lose weight without addressing sleep deprivation will limit your efforts. The same can be said for trying to solve your sleep deprivation issues without addressing your stress.
There’s no shortage of very simple things you can try to reduce the effects of stress on your body. Better yet – to reduce the actual stress itself!
- Ask for help
- Delegate tasks that can be done by someone else
- Exercise (HUGE one here!!)
- Proper nutrition (Poor nutrition only contributes more to chronic inflammation.)
- Breath deeply
- Say “no” more often (really…it’s okay!)
- Confide in a friend, loved one, or a therapist
- Take a walk in nature
- Connect with loved ones