Is Stress making you ill?
Most of you probably realise that too much stress isn't good for you, but did you know that it's estimated that up to 80% of what GPs see on any given day may be related to stress? This is HUGE! Since April is the National Stress Awareness Month, I thought we could have a look at what stress does to your body, and all the things you can do in your daily life to reduce your stress levels.
“There are many different types of stress, but the body’s physiological response remains the same.”
Stress evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations. It should be a short-term event, preparing the body to either fight or flee the threat, the so called ‘fight or flight’ response.
Some stressors are easy to identify: A stressful job, rush-hour commuting, young children, no relaxation etc. But there are also other forms of stress on our bodies that are more hidden, such as poor food choices, skipping meals, lack of sleep or a prolonged illness.
It's important to remember that there are many different types of stress, but the body’s physiological response remains the same.
What happens in the body when you are stressed?
Our bodies are amazing – when a ‘stressor’ is identified it sends multiple chemical messages around, getting you ready for action:
Blood pressure increases
Blood sugar level rises
Blood fats increase
Blood flow increases to the big muscles and brain
Digestive function is inhibited
Immune cells initiate blood clotting responses
All of these functions are needed when the threat is real – it gives us energy, focus and protection to deal with whatever is threatening us. However, in the modern world, we no longer have to run away from a saber-toothed tiger and this newly created energy is not used up.
"You will have increased blood pressure, extra glucose and fats in your blood, poor digestion and a thicker, stickier, blood."
In addition, stress is thought to impair the work of your reproductive hormones, which could influence PMS symptoms, fertility and the menstrual cycle, and contribute to menopausal symptoms.
All of these factors increase the inflammatory response in your body which, in the long run, brings an increased risk for chronic disease.
However, it's important to remember that not all stress is bad. Some situations call for that extra boost of energy and focus, and it's often how you deal with it that really matters. We all have an individual ability to cope with stress emotionally.
Stress and the Link to Weight Gain
Stress and lack of energy tend to influence our food choices. You are more likely to crave comfort food, grab a quick chocolate or another stimulant, such as coffee, when you feel under pressure.
Increased levels of the hormone cortisol (our stress hormone) have also been linked to increased fat storage around your middle. Unfortunately, this type of fat storage has a tendency to increase as you approach midlife. The issue with this 'middle-age spread' is that it's metabolically active which means that it produces hormones and other inflammatory substances that can profoundly affect your health.
Stress and the Link to Fatigue
A prolonged stress response can deplete many nutrients you need to create energy, such as Vitamin Bs and Magnesium, especially if dietary intake is low. Stress often comes hand-in-hand with anxiety which may further over-stimulate the stress response, elevating the nutrient depletions.
Continued, long-term stress and anxiety can result in higher levels of cortisol, which in turn can have a negative impact on sleep, further affecting energy levels due to sleep deprivation.
What can you do?
Even though you cannot eliminate stress, the good news is that there is a lot you CAN do in your daily life to reduce your stress level.
Improve your diet – include plenty of magnesium rich green leafy vegetables, Vitamin C rich fruits & berries, and good fats from oily fish and avocados
Find a type of exercise you thoroughly enjoy: dancing, walking, tennis, golf - it could be anything that gets you moving
Take a walk in the park or woods
Reduce your intake of stimulants such as caffeine
Improve your response to stress through including mindfulness or meditation in your day
Write a to-do list before bed to clear your mind for restful sleep
Spend time with friends and family
Learn to say ‘No’ to things you do not prioritise
And lastly, remember to BREATHE! Just by taking a few deep ‘belly breaths’ you will physically feel more relaxed. Not only will you really oxygenate your blood, you will also stretch your diaphragm which gives your internal organs a gentle massage, improving their function.
A good nutrition and lifestyle plan can make a huge difference when it comes to helping you deal with stress and its negative effects on your health, energy level and waistline. If you would like support with managing your stress levels, please give me a call for an informal chat.
Hope this helps. Keep well!
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