Kerryn Boogaard Kerryn Boogaard
Beverly Goldsmith Beverly Goldsmith
Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

What is stress doing to your body?:

And what you can do to combat it.
By Expert Tips
Date: July 14 2016
Editor Rating:
What stress can do to your body - motherpedia
It’s a buzz word – one that you hear all the time. But what exactly is stress? Why do you feel it? And what is it doing to your mind and body?
 
Stress is a whole range of reactions to danger – it’s one of the ways your body protects itself. In the face of threat, a range of stress hormones are released –they’re needed to ensure that there is plenty of glucose so that the large muscles that you need to fight or take flight. Your heart beats faster and your blood pressure rises to ensure that oxygen and nutrients in your blood can reach every cell in your body. And, the systems that aren’t needed to fight or take flight are turned down a notch or two – your digestive system, for example. This is one reason why stress and depression are sometimes linked with digestive problems.
 
So although your stress hormones play a vital role in keeping you ready to protect yourself – or others – too much of them circulating for too long can trigger physical and emotional problems over time.
 
And, it doesn’t have to be a major danger that triggers your stress response. It can be anything from a niggling neighbour to being stuck in traffic to a frustrating experience online. If you don’t address your stress, the result can be problems with...
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Memory and concentration
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches, aches and joint pains
  • Digestive problems
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems and more.
When stress hormones such as cortisol hang around in your body for long periods and aren’t burned off, you can see results in your weight – particularly in weight gain around your middle.
 
This is because when there is too much glucose in your blood, your body tries hard to normalise it. One of the ways it does this is by turning the excess glucose into fat. Fat that’s processed in the liver tends to be laid down near the liver i.e. around your middle – hello belly fat! Belly fat is different to the fat on other parts of your body. It is chemically active and triggers inflammation – which is linked with many chronic (long-term) conditions such as heart disease and cancers.
 
Belly hat has four times as many cortisol receptors as other types of fat which moves fat from areas such as your bottom and thighs (which is relatively inactive) to visceral fat (which is active and triggers inflammation). And since belly fat contains four times as many cortisol receptors as other fats, your cortisol levels rise when you have belly fat. And rise. And rise.
 
Blood pressure. Your blood pressure has to rise in order to ensure that all of your cells have access to oxygen and nutrients. But over time, high blood pressure damages your heart and is a major risk factor for heart disease. You can’t tell whether you have high blood pressure – but your GP can give you a very quick test to find out. This is why regular medical check-ups are important.
 
Emotional wellness. Studies have shown that high levels of cortisol are potent risk factors for anxiety and depression. These can result in physical symptoms such as altered sensitivity to pain, tiredness, headaches, poor sleep or excessive sleep and digestive problems. There are nerve cells all along your intestines which send signals to your brain in a two-way communication. This is why emotional problems can trigger digestive problems and vice versa.
 
So what can you do?
Find out what presses your buttons. Make a stress diary and keep it for two weeks or so. Make a note of what triggers your stress – what is it, when it happens, the time of day, how you feel. Looking back at it can reveal some interesting insights into your personal stressors.
 
hen think about how you can reduce your stress. If it’s time, there is no option but to start earlier. If its people, think about how you can see less of negative people and more of people who lift you up. And if you can’t do this, try to counter negative comments with positive or neutral ones. Decide what kind of pain you’re willing to bear. For the vast majority of us, it isn’t possible to have it all – at least not at the same time. So consider what you ‘re willing to give up or reduce. This isn’t a forever decision – review your views periodically to make sure you’re making the right decisions for you at the right time.
 
Take a leaf from Elsa
Although guilt is a natural emotional warning sign that you feel you’ve done something wrong and everyone feels it, too much can drag you down. The next time you feel guilty, try this. Think about it and pinpoint why you’re feeling guilt. Do you need to alter your behaviour? Do you need to apologise? Or are you making too much of it? Do what you need to do and then try to let it go. Even Disney heroines now recognise that they can’t do it all and get it all right all of the time and look amazing and, and and. So Learn from what happened, don’t do it again and move on. And if you can’t move on, talk to someone who can help you. Otherwise, your guilt could fester and interfere with relationships. Talking it out could help. Speak with your GP about talk therapy and counselling available to you.
 
Nourish yourself
What you eat, when you eat and how you eat can relieve your stress – and can contribute to it, too. For example, too much alcohol, too much sugar (including foods made from white flour) and too much caffeine can all stress your body triggering the release of stress hormones. Do you want a calmer life? Be choosy about what you eat and drink. Make meals and snack rich in veggies try to eat two fruits per day – they’re rich in vitamins, minerals and plant pigments. Plus, the fibre they contain help to ensure that the energy they contain is released slowly. Choose lean meat and swap some meat for fish and veggie alternatives – pulses (peas, beans and lentils). These are also rich in fibre and protein but low in fat and calories. Add pulses to casseroles, stew, soups and salads.
 
Be careful about how much alcohol you drink, too. This can stress both body and mind and rob you of restful sleep, too. And if you’re drinking too much alcohol, do what you need to do to cut down or cut it out. Your GP can help you.
 
Remember stress isn’t just about your mind – it can have a whole host of physical consequences and in the long-term, trigger serious chronic conditions. So do what you can to beat your stresses today. Your mind and your body will thank you for it. And your friends and family probably will too!
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