Stress is often a misunderstood term which many people will pass off as ‘just an emotion’ or a state of mind. However, the physical effects of stress are not to be underestimated!

Emotions are created and mediated by physical chemicals in our bodies, where real life processes are carried out within our brains and bodies to create the mood we feel. This then creates a physical change on our bodies.

The stress hormone, cortisol, is released into our bodies if we initiate a ‘flight or fight’ response due to a situation occurring in our lives that our brains perceive as dangerous or fearful. It is designed to prepare you to act quickly. This will create physical changes such as: increase in heart rate, increased breathing rate and increased production of glucose in the liver. These changes occur to increase the bodies energy to deal with the stressful situation. It is a primitive mechanism, adapted for us to run faster and for longer away from predators such as sabre tooth tigers or during hunting to catch our next meal.

Nowadays we may face stress due to financial burdens or stressful working environments!

So, a little stress now and again is our body’s way of prepping us and can be helpful if mediated and controlled.

BUT

When this stress response is continually stimulated long term, it can create many serious health issues! With consistent exposure to stress our bodies adapt, creating an altered stress response. The system that regulates cortisol levels in the body becomes hypersensitive (overly sensitive) resulting in excessive cortisol exposure. This excess release of Cortisol can affect many of our body’s systems:

Muscular System

  • With a sudden stimulus of stress our muscles may tense up all at once and then relax once the stress is gone. With chronic stress our muscles can become constantly on guard, creating taut and tight muscles. This may lead to other conditions in the body such as tension type headaches or lower back pain.

Digestive System

  • Under normal circumstances, cortisol counterbalances the effect of insulin, a hormone your pancreas makes to regulate your blood sugar. Cortisol raises blood sugar by releasing stored glucose, while insulin lowers blood sugar.
  • Continued increase of glucose can overload the body and it cannot deal with the surge of extra sugar. This may lead to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • You are more likely to have stomach acid, leading to heart burn or acid reflux.

Cardiovascular and Respiratory System

  • Stress increases our heart rate to make our blood pump faster round the body to deliver more oxygen to the muscles. If we consistently expose our body to stress, we make our hearts work too hard for too long, resulting in raised blood pressure and increase risk of strokes and heart attacks.

 

There are many other effects cortisol has on the body such as helping control your sleep-wake cycle, suppressing inflammation and regulating metabolism (how your body uses fats, proteins and carbohydrates for energy).

 

Tips for managing stress and avoid letting stress become a chronic issue.

  • Regular massage can help reduce muscle tension and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (the one that slows your heart rate). Regularly treating your muscles will help keep tight and tense muscles at bay if you’re prone to holding stress in them.
  • Box method of breathing:
    • Take deep breath in through your nose for 4 seconds letting the air fill your belly and lungs. Hold the breath for 4 seconds. Breath our through your mouth for 4 seconds. Hold empty breath for 4 seconds. Repeat 4 times.
  • Consistent physical activity… that you enjoy! If you don’t like running, then don’t force yourself to run! Find a physical activity that suits you and help boost the happy hormones (endorphins).
  • Add more foods into your diet that reduce inflammation in the body. These will be natural unprocessed foods, avoiding processed foods high in refined sugar that kick start inflammatory response in the digestive system. Focus on key nutrients that support the adrenal glade (gland responsible for cortisol release and mediation).
    • Magnesium: Reduces in times of stress. A deficiency can lead to fatigue and insomnia, predisposing one to stress.
    • B vitamins: Support adrenal function.

The key message here is to NOT stress about stress. Start little and make small changes in your lifestyle that will eventually make a bigger difference.

2 Comments

  1. Amanda on 26th June 2022 at 9:39 am

    Thank you for taking the time to research and post.for me this is most timely..id been looking at cbt to de stress so the extra info has been most helpful .. kind regards Amanda

  2. David Headspeath on 26th June 2022 at 11:16 am

    Excellent informative article. Stress indeed is a silent killer and making even the smallest of changes can seriously improve all round wellbeing. Thank you for taking the time to share this article and will definitely be using some of the tips.

    Best,
    David Headspeath

Leave a Comment