Get the facts on stress and the 7 ways it can wage war on your body and learn the importance of managing the things that stress you out!
Chronic stress has become known as one of the primary causes of disease that can cause digestive difficulties, poor sleep, affect blood pressure and blood sugar, inflammation, and as a major contributor to emotional eating and weight gain.
Let’s look more closely to some of these factors and the effects they have on the body.
Digestion shuts down
Stress can create an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach that I am sure we all have felt before. Whether being nervous about presenting in front of a crowd or worried about work or family matters, our body responds to situations that are outside our comfort zone. Unfortunately, the digestive system is the most easily influenced by stress. Since there is a huge brain-gut connection, chronic stress can shut off digestion. In order to survive a stressful situation, our body goes into what’s known as a “flight or fight” situation: the brain diverts from digesting food to dealing with the stressful situation at hand. This can affect the secretion of digestive juices and, as a result, food does not get completely absorbed by the body. The body will also have a harder time breaking down food to be used as energy.
Elevates blood pressure
Although the link between stress and blood pressure are not 100% clear, blood pressure can increase temporarily while you are experiencing psychological stress. There are various factors that contribute to blood pressure elevation, and stress—at least temporarily—can contribute to a rise in hypertension. Although, overall studies show that stress does not directly cause hypertension, repeated blood pressure elevations can lead to hyper tension.
Stress can cause poor sleep and the worst case, insomnia. Lack of sleep can lead to fatigue, poor concentration, and can weaken one’s immune system which can cause added stress to the body. Unfortunately, this can turn into a vicious cycle…stress, no sleep, more stress, repeat. A good night’s sleep is important. This is the time our body recuperates and recovers from our daily pressures.
Increases Blood Sugar/Insulin
Stress can increase the body’s blood sugar and lead to an increase in insulin. When stress hormones, adrenalin and cortisol, are chronically stimulated, the body will become less able to regulate blood sugar. Chronic elevated cortisol caused by stress may increase one’s chances of getting diabetes. Over time, the pancreas struggles to keep up with the high demand for insulin, glucose levels in the blood remain high, and the cells cannot get the sugar they need. Consequently, the body remains in an insulin-resistant state when cortisol levels are chronically elevated. Unfortunately, stress is a leading factor that increases insulin. Insulin aids the entry of fats into our fat cells. Excess insulin increases one’s appetite and cravings for carbohydrates and fatty foods, which can cause weight gain, especially belly fat and love handles. Too much insulin also prevents fat from burning. In addition, it can cause poor concentration and memory, impair thinking, and cause anxiety. We never want to have too much insulin.
Contributes to emotional eating
When we are stressed, feelings of sadness, worry, anger and sometimes hopelessness can occur. These feelings can make us feel uncomfortable and, in an effort to feel better, sometimes reaching for a chocolate bar or something sweet can make us feel better. Sadly, this pattern of behaviour probably started at a young age. Many of us try to relieve anxiety, tension, frustration, unhappiness, irritability, and loneliness by overindulging in food.
Chronic inflammation has been linked to numerous health problems, and stress has contributed to increased inflammation in our body. When stress becomes chronic, the body releases the main stress hormone, cortisol. Any emotional and physical stress that is constant can raise the level of cortisol. Inflammation is regulated by this main stress hormone. As a result whenever cortisol gets released there is an increase in inflammation as well. Inflammation increases insulin residence, fuels fat gain and can slow or prevent fat loss. For this reason it is important that we do not allow inflammation to get out of control.
Typically, when we are stressed, we indulge in sugary and fatty comfort foods more often. It is at this time of weakness when we commonly make poor food choices. When we are faced with stressful situations, we often eat more food then we need to. Unfortunately, these extra calories get stored as fat. Weight gain caused by stress typically means an increase in belly fat.
Additionally, the release of stress hormones such as cortisol increases the fat around the belly. Regrettably, an increase in abdominal fat is dangerous. It can increase your chance of cardiovascular disease since abdominal fat is so closely located near the heart.
It is a good idea to find ways to manage stress. If stress continues long-term, your health inevitably suffers. Being more aware of how the body responds to stress can help you find ways to deal with the anxieties in your life in a healthy way.
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