stress

3 Ways Stress Affects Your Body & How To Stop It Immediately

Health is much more than drinking green juices and hitting the gym. If you never catch your breath, wake up feeling tired, anxious, emotionally drained, and can’t rid stubborn abdominal fat, chances are you’re chronically stressed.


Not all stress is bad. Good stress is our best friend, spurring us into action and saving our lives in acute fight-or-flight situations. It helps us when we need to perform our best.

But our body doesn’t differentiate between good and bad stress: it can only respond in one way. It’s the chronic stress and our body’s natural, evolutionary response that’s causing all sorts of health problems, including weight gain.

Don’t worry just yet; you’ve come to the right place. Let us help you understand everything you need to know about stress and what you can do to reverse its effects. We’ll guide you through it!

 

So, What Exactly Is Stress?

Much more than an emotion, stress is a hard-wired physical response travelling throughout your entire body. An acute stress reaction instantly activates our HPA-axis while our body quickly releases Cortisol and Adrenaline. These hormones urge our lungs to quickly pump oxygen into the blood stream, raising our heartbeat and blood pressure to deliver the energy we’d need to escape the stressor.

Stress requires so much energy that the body puts all other things hold. You stop repairing your tissue. You stop renewing your cells.

Now, if our ancestors would escape a lion, they’d return to their daily activities, and their acute stress response would shut down.

But nowadays, we’re living in a world with an overdose of non-stop psychological and social stress. We worry about our jobs, arguments at home, upcoming tax bills, annoying colleagues, traffic jams, mortgage, the health of our loved ones, unanswered emails and climate change.

In addition to that, we are collectively overworked, trying to get more done than we’ve got time for while constantly blurring the line between private and professional spheres with our mobile gadgets.

As a consequence, we consume more sugar than ever before, and live in an overwhelming information age that we can’t properly deal with.

This chronic stress is the evil kind of stress but triggers the exact same primitive fight-or-flight response in our bodies as running from a lion! No matter if good or bad; our bodies know only one way to respond to stress.
 

It’s All About Energy

Chronic stress kicks our natural energy distribution out of balance.

Let’s say you are stressed over the course of three months. That means your immune system will steal energy from other systems for three months to feed your innate survival fight-or-flight response. All so that it has enough fuel to feed your muscles, heart and breathing until you ‘escape’ your stressor.

Your body will basically think it’s running from a lion for 3 months.

There’ll be no energy left for other essential systems – such as your digestion and reproduction – which is why chronic stress leaves you to feel irritable, forgetful, overwhelmed, isolated and sleep deprived.

Ideally, your immune system only awakes for an acute stressor and isn’t in constant action during the day. Unfortunately, nowadays we shoot in stress mode too often and too long for our bodies to handle. During those typically long episodes of stress, our energy distribution is completely thrown off, resulting in all types of health problems.
 


 
 

What Does Stress Do With Our Bodies?

Our bodies aren’t evolutionary prepared to deal with the relatively unfamiliar stressors of modern life. In fact, our human DNA only changes 0.1% every 10.000 years. We haven’t been able to genetically adapt to the circumstances we’ve created since the industrial revolution.
 

1. Chronic Stress Makes It Impossible To Lose Weight

The stress hormone Cortisol increases your appetite because of the body’s extra need for energy, but also because a stressed body can only run on sugar and metabolise carbohydrates to get energy.

Sugar Cravings…

During a stress reaction, Cortisol increases your blood pressure and together with Adrenaline helps accelerate your heartbeat and breathing. This sends glucose to the blood to help free up enough energy for the muscles and the brain. Consequently, a fuel shortage arises, and sugar guarantees a quick energy fix, making us excessively crave sweet foods.

Over the last 50-100 years, a lot of new stress stimuli entered our lives, making it almost impossible for our brains to get enough glucose (sugar) to deal with all these stressors and process them. Our Western civilisation adapted to this, offering carbohydrate and sugar-rich foods wherever we go. Comfort foods and drinks have become the quickest solution to our stress-related energy dips.

Read also: Always Hungry? How To Kill Your Sugar Addiction Before It Kills You

 

Exhausting Your Insulin Factory…

You need insulin to get glucose (sugar) out of your blood and into your cells. Unfortunately, stress hormones make it difficult for your pancreas to secrete insulin. But it gets worse: the overload of sugar (that you consume to make up for the energy shortage during a chronic stress reaction), makes your pancreas hyperactive. Over time this hyperactivity disturbs your cells in the pancreas to such a degree that it won’t be able to produce sufficient insulin anymore.

Our absurdly high sugar intake eventually exhausts the pancreas, our insulin-factory, which explains why obesity and diabetes-II have become a silent epidemic of our time.

 

Bye, Bye, Fat Burning…

As long as you are stressed, burning fat becomes almost impossible. So you can run that treadmill all you want, but if that only causes an even higher cortisol production, it will only make you gain. That’s because your cells need oxygen to be able to metabolise fat into energy. Unfortunately, stress keeps oxygen from reaching your cells, leaving you dependent on carbohydrates for your energy. Hello, sugar cravings!

It’s therefore not a coincidence that fast food chains, soft drink companies and vending machines have boomed since the eighties when the developed world saw steep economic growth. Corporate culture and its eat-or-be-eaten attitude became glamorised, altogether spiking our stress levels to new, unfamiliar heights.

Done with stress? Get more CALM with our guide to more peace in everyday life here.
 

2. Chronic Stress Shrinks Our Brains

The impact of stress stretches beyond the shape of your body. Neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley, recently found that chronic stress triggers long-term changes in brain structure and function.

High levels of cortisol over long periods of time wreak havoc on your brain literally causing it to shrink in size!

Chronic stress shrinks your pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for regulating behaviours like concentration, decision-making, judgement and social interaction. It also kills, shrinks and causes loss of synaptic connections between neurones in the hippocampus, the part of your brain that is vital for learning, memory and stress control.

When the hippocampus weakens, so does your ability to manage stress, as well as to learn and remember things. Shockingly, chronic stress eventually sets the stage for more severe mental problems, like depression and eventually Alzheimer’s disease.

 

3. Chronic Stress Makes Us Sick

A chronic stress response not only changes your brain but also damages many of the other organs and cells throughout your body. It lowers immune function, disrupting the body’s ability to heal itself, making it vulnerable to infections.

The Adrenaline pushes your heart to beat faster and heightens your blood pressure. Too much of it eventually results in hypertension. At the same time, an overdose of cortisol disrupts the function of your artery walls, one of the contributing factors of cholesterol plaque in the arteries and even arteriosclerosis. These two processes combined become a ticking heart-attack-and-stroke time-bomb.

Chronic stress also disrupts your intestinal nervous system, which is responsible for moving food through your gut, leading to irritable bowel syndrome. It can also increase your gut sensitivity to acid, making you more prone to heartburn. Stress even negatively affects the quality of your gut bacteria, upsetting your digestion and leading to poor overall health.

Most alarming though is that cortisol makes us store a dangerous ‘visceral’ fat layer around our organs. Visceral fat increases the production of your immune system’s ‘cytokines’, which further increases your risk of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance.

Stress even accelerates the ageing process by shortening telomeres (the ends of our chromosomes). Telomeres are responsible for the preservation of your genetic code during cell division. With each cell division, the telomeres get shorter which is why we naturally age. But when telomeres become too short too quickly, a cell can no longer divide and dies, resulting in accelerated ageing.

Other health problems linked to chronic stress are anxiety, ulcers in the stomach, headaches, acne, hair loss, sexual dysfunction, fatigue and irritability.

 

Start Reversing The Effects Of Chronic Stress

There’s no need to get stressed about being stressed! There are many ways to reverse the effects of chronic stress! Of course, life will always keep throwing challenging situations at you, but what matters is how you cope with them.

We highly encourage to start valuing stress reduction in everyday life; it’ll change your life in all sorts of positive ways. And think of it this way:

You cannot be there for your loved ones, team or clients, if you don’t put on your own oxygen mask first.

Now the extremely stressed-out bees always tell me: “I ain’t got no time for that! Relieving my stress is a luxury I can’t afford!”

My answer to those of you is the following: You’re of no use to this world when you’re burned out, depressed, in a constant state of anxiety, and when you lose your health.

 

The Most Powerful Stress-Busting Tools:

Need to calm down and get a hold on your stress? Fill in your first name and email below to grab your copy of CALM – The Most Powerful Stress-Busting Tools Proven By Science.
 


 

Now I’d love to hear from you. What’s the single biggest obstacle standing in the way of your stress relief? What action can you take today to overcome that hurdle?

Your beautiful fellow go-getters and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. What you’ve got to say may help and inspire others to embrace self-care too!

Also, when you know someone who needs to hear about the effects of stress and how to reverse it – forward this to them right away.

Love, I’m so grateful to have you here with us!
Namaste. x

 

Resources

Bergland, C. (2016). How Does Meditation Reduce Anxiety at a Neural Level?. [Weblog]. Retrieved from https://cdn.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201306/how-does-meditation-reduce-anxiety-neural-level
Bergland, C. (2014, 12 February 2014). Chronic Stress Can Damage Brain Structure and Connectivity. [Weblog]. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201402/chronic-stress-can-damage-brain-structure-and-connectivity
Bergland, C. (2013). Cortisol: Why “The Stress Hormone” Is Public Enemy No 1. [Weblog]. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201301/cortisol-why-the-stress-hormone-is-public-enemy-no-1
Bergquist, S. .H. (2016). TED Ed. Retrieved from http://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-stress-affects-your-body-sharon-horesh-bergquist
Chetty, S. (2014). Stress and glucocorticoids promote oligodendrogenesis in the adult hippocampus. Molecular Psychiatry, 19(0), 1275-1283.
Epel, E. (2009). Can meditation slow rate of cellular aging? Cognitive stress, mindfulness, and telomeres. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1172(0), 34–53.
Kapanen, K. (2015). What Meditation Does to Your Brain. [Weblog]. Retrieved from http://yogatime.tv/blog/what-meditation-does-to-your-brain/
Segerstrom, S. C. & Miller, G. E. (2004). Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry. Psychological Bulletin, 130(4), 601–630.
Sanders, R. (2014, 1 January 1970). New evidence that chronic stress predisposes brain to mental illness. [Weblog]. Retrieved from http://news.berkeley.edu/2014/02/11/chronic-stress-predisposes-brain-to-mental-illness/
Ted. (2016). TED Ed. Retrieved from http://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-stress-affects-your-brain-madhumita-murgia

36 Responses to 3 Ways Stress Affects Your Body & How To Stop It Immediately

  1. Glad we could be of help Britney, we found out through solid research that most of the time stress is at the root cause of many health related problems.

  2. I have had fourteen years of accute stress worrying about my sons who are always in trouble. This has meant I’ve run on adrenaline and I now have non alcolic fatty liver disease developing through producing too much cortisol. My weight is spot on and I do not drink very much but stress has had a similar effect to having been a heavy drinker. It’s caused back pain above the kidneys in the adrenal area and joint pain plus memory loss and emotional problems. I am under a consultant but my medical herbalist has made the most impact in dropping my A L T levels and other associated indicators and blood pressure. I also need to relax more.

  3. I hadn’t ever really thought how my inability to lose weight could be correlated to the amount of stress in my life. The sugary cravings you mentioned describe me on an almost daily basis. Maybe the next step I should take in my weight loss journey would be to try out a stress reduction program.

  4. HI Finley, you’re so on point. The Personal Body Reset is fore and foremost a stress reduction program. Keep in mind that stressors come from the mind (mental), from over-exercise or the wrong exercise and under-eating or the wrong foods for your body-type. You can find it here: https://www.healthcoachfx.com/the-personal-body-reset/ Stress is the main cause of hormonal imbalance.

  5. Please help, I have always worried over many years but these past few months at my job has been emotionally draining. Hurtful co workers. I’m 54 yrs old and feet bullied. I have been hospitalized for a week with no results on why I lost ability to walk without a walker. My feet legs and pelvic area is tingly feeling numbness. How can I reverse this in my body? Thanks

  6. I’m 40 now and since 3 years have been suffering from insomnia, fatigue, Pms, facial hair, shorter periods, uterus fibroids, thinning hair scalp, stress, anxiety.  I’ve seen several gynecology St’s,  done several hormone tests, thyroid tests, all the test are OK.  I’ve had lots of acupuncture sessions which have helped me so much mainly sleep is much better, less fatigue, my period is still shorter than before but I have been told that that can change with age, the only thing I’m still trying to solve is my facial hair, is so flustrating,  I took some bio identical progesterone cream which have helped very much with my sleep, mood etc, my facial hair is still there. Please could you help,  I’m really desprate to find a solution, please could it be adrenal? I had first signs of facial hair around the age of 15 they were very thin light hair which I waxed for years, when I was pregnant I had hardly any facial hair till the age of 36 when it all started with huge fatigue, low libido (I was under lots of stress than) and ever since I can’t get this under control, I have solve the problem of fatigue, my libido is so much better, I can cotrol my stress better, Pms is hardly there, I also excercise now, I eat well – the only problem is facial hair, is ruining my life, I can’t go out socialise, is embarrassing, the hair I waxed before now is corse and shows more, regrows faster, every day I have to pluck is so hard, what can I do, sound to me like this is hormonal but all the doctors say there is nothing wrong with me looking at the tests.

    • When I was reading your post I thought that was me. Except for the hair problem. I do have hairs on my chin, but I don’t have to take them out every day. You can get your hair permanently removed. Check for hair removal in your area.

      • Hair removal is NOT the solution to the cause. It’s an hormonal problem that has to be solved, so the hair growth won’t appear in the first place.

  7. I love this article. I suffer from depression and stress sometimes gets a hold of me. Thank you so much for this article! 🙂

  8. I am having bad hormonal break outs from switching birth controls, and would love some tips on how to monitor my stress levels, to help my skin improve.

    • Please visit our webinar Fiona, it’s all in there. You can find the big red button on our homepage.

  9. This past few months or atleast year has been really hard on me, i have discovered that the stress and anxiety didn’t just drain me it gave me a serious case of chest pain and breathing problems and i have no idea what to do, i feel like i need a break i don’t want to die of a heart attack at the age of 23 does yone have advice on how to just chill?

  10. Even little stupid comments that my husband makes about others causes me stress and I can almost feel cortisol causes me stomach issues and fat production!

  11. I stress to much so time when I do I feel I shutdown I am so tired I sleep for days and don’t feel rested I feel tired u til it goes away I miss work and social events because I am to overly tired I need a solution

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