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
Cook a nutritious meal and eat it by candlelight
Keep a journal
Have a support network of people, places and things
Talk less and listen more
Praise other people
Learn the words to a new song
Clean out your closet
Go for a picnic in the sunshine
Take a different route to work
Watch a movie and eat popcorn
Talk to a friend on the phone
Plant a tree
Meet your own needs
Stop a bad habit
Find a support network
Practice mediation daily using an app
Work at being optimistic
Do it today
Do everything in moderation
Pay attention to your appearance
Find a vent partner
Look at the stars
Practice deep, slow breathing
Listen to your favourite music
Read curled up in bed
Do something new
Take a bubble bath
Believe in yourself
Don't be hard on yourself
Make copies of important papers
Look at problems as challenges
Unclutter your life
Be prepared for rain
Prepare for the morning the night before
Set priorities in your life
Write things down
Process and release emotional toxins
Develop "flexible optimism"
Practice good sleep hygiene
Exercise very day
Foster healthy social relationships
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.