It seems like in today’s modern world, there’s no way to escape it. Stress is inevitable.
Having some level of stress in our lives is normal and healthy. Stress can be a great motivator: propelling us to take action–to make a change, to do something!
If you’re a: Mom, woman, boss, employee, businesswoman, entrepreneur you undoubtedly know what stress is and then some!
But at what point is stress unhealthy?
When does it become the very mechanism that overwhelms and paralyzes us, that keeps us awake at night or makes us reach for the bottle of Tums? When does it become the thing that threatens our health and emotional well being, that causes us to gain weight and lose our hair?
Stress can be temporary (acute) or it can be long-term (chronic) and whether it’s the former or the latter, it can make a difference in your overall health.
In most instances, acute stress has a short-term impact on your body and is your body’s natural reaction to a certain set of circumstances–in many instances, this “fight or flight” reaction can even be life-saving. When the “threat” or “stressor” is gone, the body’s reaction subsides, and all is well.
Chronic stress, on the other hand, can be problematic. Under chronic stress, your body remains in a heightened state of “fight or flight”, elevating your blood pressure, raising your heart rate and breathing rate, and pumping cortisol out into your body. Over time this prolonged stress can begin to affect your body in several ways: Increased inflammation, sleep disturbances, decreased immune function, chronic anxiety, depression, fatigue and even weight gain–particularly around your midsection.
Prolonged stress (and stress hormones) can have a negative impact on your health.
So, let’s dive into the “stress mess.”
Mess #1 – Increased risk of heart disease and diabetes
Anything that increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes (both serious, chronic conditions) needs to be discussed. Stress increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes by promoting chronic inflammation, affecting your blood “thickness,” and disrupting how well your cells respond to insulin. (During the “fight or flight” response, the body mobilizes insulin stores to help provide energy to the body’s tissues so you can “fight” or “flee”–both important if you’re in danger of attack from a saber-toothed tiger, but not-so-much when you have a stressful job!
Early signs that stress may be negatively affecting you are increased cholesterol, borderline/high blood pressure, borderline diabetes or high blood sugar.
Mess #2 – Immunity
Have you ever noticed that you get sick more often when you’re stressed? Maybe you get colds, cold sores, or even the flu more frequently? Perhaps you feel run down or constantly tired?
That’s because stress hormones affect the chemical messengers (cytokines) secreted by immune cells consequently, they are less able to do their jobs effectively.
Mess #3 – “Leaky Gut.”
So what exactly is “Leaky Gut”?
Inside our bellies, we have an extensive intestinal lining covering more than 4,000 square feet of surface area. When working properly, it forms a tight barrier that controls what gets absorbed into the bloodstream. An unhealthy gut lining may have large cracks or holes, allowing partially digested food, toxins, and bugs to penetrate the tissues beneath it. This may trigger inflammation and changes in the gut flora (normal bacteria) that could lead to problems within the digestive tract and beyond. The research world is booming today with studies showing that modifications in the intestinal bacteria and inflammation may play a role in the development of several common chronic diseases.
Stress can contribute to leaky gut, otherwise known as “intestinal permeability” by allowing the stress hormone “cortisol” to open up tiny holes which your body will respond to by initiating the inflammatory response–inflammation brings fluids and white blood cells to the area to protect the rest of the body.
To picture this more simply: Have you ever played “red rover?” It’s where a group of children stand in a row and link arms or hold hands, while another child runs at them, trying to break through. Think of those hands as the junctions between cells. When they get loose, they allow things to get in that should not be. Cortisol (produced in excess with chronic stress) is a strong player in red rover!
Mess #4 – Sleep Disruption
Stress and sleep (or lack thereof) go hand-in-hand, wouldn’t you agree? It’s often difficult to sleep when you have very important (and stressful) things on your mind.
And when you don’t get enough sleep, it affects your energy level, memory, ability to think, and mood.
Additional research shows that when it comes to weight loss, lack of sleep (both quality and quantity) can contribute to the inability to lose weight, just as much as weight gain itself!
Reducing stressors in your life is an obvious first step.
- Put less pressure on yourself?
- Ask for help?
- Say “no”?
- Delegate to someone else?
- Finally, make that decision?
No matter how hard you try, you won’t eliminate stress altogether. So, here are a few things you can try to help reduce its effect on you:
- Deep breathing
- Walk in nature
- Unplug (read a book, take a bath, take a nap, pamper yourself)
- Exercise (yoga, tai chi, weightlifting, etc.)
- Connect with loved ones
Stress is a huge and often underappreciated factor in our health. It can impact your physical body much more than you might realize.
Stress has been shown to increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes, affect your immune system, digestion and sleep.
There are things you can do to both reduce stressors and also to improve your response to it.
You can ditch that stress mess!
Founder and Creator of Fitness MOMents® LLC
Trish Marmo is on a one-woman mission to help busy women over 40 “wake up” to becoming their best selves and reclaim their health and fitness! If you’ve woken up to the fact that what you’ve been doing isn’t working anymore more, or you don’t recognize the person you see staring back at you in the mirror, then let’s talk! Schedule a Breakthrough Session here or learn more about how I can help you here!