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What Stress Does To The Body

Updated: May 24, 2019

Stress is a physical response that sends hormones travelling throughout the whole body, preparing it for a dangerous situation; be it emotional or physical. When in danger, the brain isn’t thinking about fighting infections, digesting food or getting a good night’s sleep. In a real, true sense, stress makes you physically sick. The familiar “fight-or-flight” mechanism causes most of our blood and energy to be shunted away from the gut towards the muscles and lungs, which would help us run for our lives.

Stress can be good in short bursts as it helps you avoid danger or meet a deadline but it’s when it continues for long periods of time, that’s when it can be harmful to health and lead to chronic illnesses. Continued stress stops your immune system from functioning properly, hinders the absorption of key nutrients and can cause infertility.

What happens to the body when stressed?

When you’re stressed, your adrenal glands release the hormones cortisol and adrenaline which travel through your body reaching your blood vessels and heart. Cortisol raises blood sugar levels, making the pancreas release extra insulin, which lowers blood sugar rather quickly resulting in refined carbohydrate cravings. This can cause insulin resistance and ultimately diabetes and/or obesity. Cortisol can adversely affect the inner lining of the blood vessels causing cholesterol plaque build- up over time, which can result in a heart attack or stroke. Adrenaline makes the heart beat faster and raises the blood pressure which can cause hypertension over time.

Stress affects digestion. Food won’t move as efficiently through the gut which can lead to IBS and can increase the gut’s sensitivity to acid. It can also affect the function of the gut bacteria. Cortisol can increase appetite as it sends a signal to the body to replenish the energy stores with energy dense foods which can lead to obesity. Excess cortisol can lead to visceral fat build up. Visceral fat is fat that surrounds crucial internal organs that can impair their proper functioning, increasing the risk of developing chronic diseases.

Prolonged stress can weaken the function of some immune cells, making the body more susceptible to infections and slows the rate of healing.

Constant stress can lead to premature ageing as it shortens telomeres. Telomeres are the caps at the end of chromosomes, the longer your telomeres, the longer your life.

Persistent stress changes the brain structure and function which causes the nerve cells in the Hippocampus to degenerate. The Hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Do you often forget people’s names or forget where you left your keys? Your stress levels could be harming your brain.

50 ways to relieve stress

  1. Cook a nutritious meal and eat it by candlelight

  2. Keep a journal

  3. Smile

  4. Have a support network of people, places and things

  5. Talk less and listen more

  6. Praise other people

  7. Learn the words to a new song

  8. Clean out your closet

  9. Go for a picnic in the sunshine

  10. Take a different route to work

  11. Watch a movie and eat popcorn

  12. Talk to a friend on the phone

  13. Plant a tree

  14. Stretch

  15. Practice yoga

  16. Meet your own needs

  17. Stop a bad habit

  18. Buy flowers

  19. Find a support network

  20. Practice mediation daily using an app

  21. Work at being optimistic

  22. Do it today

  23. Do everything in moderation

  24. Pay attention to your appearance

  25. Find a vent partner

  26. Set goals

  27. Get hugs

  28. Look at the stars

  29. Practice deep, slow breathing

  30. Listen to your favourite music

  31. Read curled up in bed

  32. Do something new

  33. Take a bubble bath

  34. Believe in yourself

  35. Practice mindfulness

  36. Don't be hard on yourself

  37. Make copies of important papers

  38. Look at problems as challenges

  39. Unclutter your life

  40. Be prepared for rain

  41. Prepare for the morning the night before

  42. Set priorities in your life

  43. Write things down

  44. Process and release emotional toxins

  45. Develop "flexible optimism"

  46. Practice good sleep hygiene

  47. Eat nutritiously

  48. Exercise very day

  49. Foster healthy social relationships

  50. Seek help when you need it


Green leafy vegetables contain folate, which produces dopamine, a “happy” brain chemical, helping you keep calm. Turkey, nuts, seeds, tofu, fish, lentils, oats, beans, and eggs contain tryptophan, an amino acid which helps produce serotonin. This chemical regulates feelings of happiness and well-being, it has a calming effect on the body. The Omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish have anti-inflammatory properties that can offset the adverse effects of stress hormones.

Turmeric has shown to reverse the effects of hippocampal atrophy. On a side note, women trying to conceive should steer clear of turmeric as it can affect the sperm’s ability to fertilise the egg.

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