I’ve mentioned before, there’s a handful of risk factors that keep coming up again and again that contribute to the chronic diseases of today. Inflammation is one of them.
Chronic stress is another.
Watch the video to find out how chronic stress messes with your health. (3:46)
So to recap:
We all deal with stress. It is a normal part of our everyday life. Our bodies are designed to handle stress.
How does your body handle stress?
You see, we have these glands called adrenal glands. These glands sit on top of your kidneys (get it? ad-renal). These little glands produce hormones that are responsible for the body’s reaction to stress.
One of the main hormones that your adrenal glands secrete is called cortisol. Cortisol is naturally secreted from the adrenal glands in a particular pattern each day. In healthy individuals, it is highest in the morning and drops throughout the day.
This is a good thing…..this is what we want it to look like.
Your body will also release cortisol in reaction to stress. When this happens, your body has a physiological response (it’s not just in your head). Your heart rate will go up, blood flow will increase to the brain/muscles and glucose (sugar) is mobilized in order to provide you with energy you need to deal with the stressor.
Makes sense right?
The thing is, your body was designed to deal with stress for short, finite periods of time. You know, times when you needed to get away from that lion.
The problem is (and you know where I am going with this don’t you), you don’t just have short term bouts of stress.
Usually its: you-wake-up-with-a-buzzing-alarm-clock-rush-to-get-breakfast-and-lunches-made-get-the-kids-ready-and-off-to-school-hopefully-can-shower-and-change-then-hop-in-the-car-deal-with-traffic-go-to-work (or school :))-manage-phone-calls-emails-back-to-back-meetings-at-work-rush-home-in-traffic-again-get-dinner-ready-argue-over-homework-take-the-kids-to-soccer-get-home-bathtime-for-the-kids-then-stories-and-bed-now-it’s-time-to-clean-up-then-finally-flop-into-bed. Rinse. Repeat.
Or something like that.
Stress could be more than just a super busy schedule too. Things like food sensitivities, lack of sleep, chronic infections, even over-exercising can cause an increase in cortisol.
Your body wasn’t designed to differentiate between short term stress and the longer term, chronic stress.
Your adrenal glands secrete cortisol to deal with – stress – any kind of stress.
It’s when you get into long term sustained stress on your body that really messes you up.
That natural flow of cortisol? You know, high in the morning and low at night – it gets out of whack. Chronic stress can mean that your cortisol can be perpetually too high or secreted at the wrong time.
Impact of stress on your body
So what does it do to your body? How does this prolonged exposure to cortisol (or disregulated cortisol) mess with your health? Here are just 3 potential issues.
1. Increased blood sugar levels
Makes sense right? If you needed to get away from a lion it was important that blood sugar was available in order to provide energy to your body to get moving (quick!).
The thing is, with chronic stress, consistently high levels of blood sugar isn’t good for you. With all of this sugar in your blood your body ends up consistently trying to put it somewhere (your body doesn’t like having it floating in your blood) and the result – insulin resistance (your cells get tired of sugar knocking on the door all the time). Insulin resistance can lead to a whole host of problems (like diabetes, heart disease, inflammation, etc., etc.)
Also, do you ever feel that you are doing everything right with your diet and just can’t seem to lose the weight? You may just want to look at your stress levels. If you feel like you’re always stressed (or running from place to place), you’re probably in fat storage mode and it doesn’t matter how great your diet is, it will be very difficult to lose weight.
2. Depressed immunity – increased inflammation
When you are stressed, it messes with your immune system. Because your body is focused on the perceived immediate ‘life threatening event’ other things take a back seat. Like immunity. With a suppressed immune system, you are more susceptible to illness. And what does this lead to? Inflammation. Again, this can lead to a whole host of problems. (I’ve talked about it here.)
3. Impaired digestion
When cortisol is elevated, blood flow is redirected to the brain/muscles and away from your digestive system. When your body is in ‘fight or flight’ mode it isn’t very concerned about digesting the food that you just ate….it has more important things on it’s mind….like survival.
You can’t be in ‘rest and digest’ mode and ‘fight or flight’ mode at the same time. The result? When you eat, your food won’t be digested properly. So if you are eating on the go, eating sitting in front of the computer and are not mindful of the food that you are putting in your mouth, it is going to effect how well you absorb and assimilate the nutrients in your body. (Yep, that’s really important).
One of the biggest problems is that the impact of chronic stress is subtle and it’s difficult to see a direct cause and effect. Bang your finger and your finger hurts….pretty obvious right? Can’t lose weight? Seem to catch every cold? Acid reflux? You may not see a direct link but stress could be the underlying culprit.
I hate to break it to you but, in this day and age, we’re all facing some sort of chronic stress.
As a result, we need to figure out how to manage it.
Hmmmm……sounds like a perfect topic for a video (see how I did that? :)).
We talked this week about the effect on stress in the body so next week I will talk about what you can do to manage the stress in your life.
Thanks so much for watching!