When we’re stressed, our bodies are primed to “flight or fight”—an essential mechanism for survival in the cave days, when humans needed to protect themselves from predators and other aggressors. In the modern world, the mechanisms triggered by stress in the body remain the same. However, tension triggers are others and are more common in everyday life, which can bring several health damages.
According to the Mayo Clinic, during a normal stressful situation your hypothalamus triggers an alarm system in the body. Through a combination of nervous and hormonal signals, there is an increase in the production of substances such as adrenaline and cortisol. Understand their roles:
- Adrenaline It increases heart rate, raises blood pressure and increases energy supply. All this for you to stay tuned and also to make more blood and fuel reach your muscles (which need to be ready to flee or fight).
- Cortisol Main stress hormone, it increases blood glucose (blood sugar, which serves as fuel for muscles), increases the use of glucose by the brain and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues, in addition to restricting functions that would not be essential or harmful. in a fight or flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with the regions of the brain that control mood, motivation and fear.
The body’s stress response system is often self-limiting. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels and other systems resume their regular activities.
But when stressors are always present in everyday life (bills to pay, pressure from the boss, sleepless nights) and your body feels constantly under attack, this fight-or-flight reaction stays on “all the time”, which interrupts or impairs various body processes.
Constantly high blood sugar, for example, can lead to diabetes. Already the always accelerated heartbeat and high blood pressure can lead to heart attack and stroke. The high level of stress even increases the risk of having anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, muscle tension and pain, sleep problems, memory and concentration disorders, etc.
Stress and weight gain
Stress has a very important influence on your weight. Here are some factors associated with this:
– Stress can lower your activity levels Although the mechanism of action is the same in all organisms, stress can affect people in different ways. According to the Harvard Health Publishing, some people respond to stress by becoming sedentary; after all, who among us doesn’t want to de-stress by watching a series lying on the couch? However, according to the Mayo Clinic, regular exercise is an important way to burn calories and control weight. The lack of physical activity associated with stress can lead to weight gain.
– Stress can disrupt your sleep Poor sleep can trigger weight gain (studies show that lack of sleep is linked to higher calorie intake and cravings for high-calorie foods). According to the American Psychological Association, lack of sleep can also affect your memory, judgment and mood, so when your brain is not able to perform at its best and you have trouble regulating your mood, it can pave the way for more stress, more bad sleep. quality and greater consumption of low quality food. A survey of International Journal of Endocrinology showed that sleep deprivation can also affect your metabolism, as well as altering hormones that help regulate appetite and metabolism.
– Stress can affect your diet Stress can also change your relationship with food. For one, half of us eat more when we’re stressed, which can lead to weight gain, especially when we’re “emotional eaters.” Stress also causes your body to release the hormone cortisol, which helps you stay on high alert so you can handle a dangerous situation. It can also trigger cravings for sugary, salty, and fatty foods — fast calories that provide fuel to fight or escape a stressor, but contribute to weight gain, as fighting the stressor of today’s world doesn’t cost you the energy. that consumed running or fighting.
– Stress can slow down your metabolism Stress affects all systems, but mostly it comes down to the nervous, endocrine and immune systems. Therefore, if these three systems become unbalanced over time, they cause the deficiency of different mediators and different hormones in the body and its metabolism. A study of Biological Psychiatry showed that people who reported a stressful event in the last 24 hours burned 104 fewer calories than those who did not experience any stress. In addition, research has shown that people who experienced a stressful event in the 24 hours before eating a high-fat meal had a lower caloric expenditure than those who were not stressed, however, more studies are needed. But stress can also indirectly slow down your metabolism. Behaviors associated with stress — such as not getting enough sleep — alter our body’s ability to regulate metabolism and appetite, which can contribute to weight gain.
– Cortisol can cause your body to store more fat. Chronically elevated levels of cortisol are linked to weight gain, particularly in the central abdominal region (abdominal fat).
– Cortisol can affect insulin regulation Elevated cortisol can make it difficult for insulin to do its job properly, resulting in a condition called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance causes your body to produce more insulin in an attempt to keep blood sugar levels stable, which can lead to weight gain. Prolonged insulin resistance can also increase your risk of conditions like prediabetes or type 2 diabetes and can cause the brain’s appetite centers to be dysregulated, contributing to cravings for processed foods or eating more than you would otherwise. form.
Respond to stress in a healthy way
Stressful events are facts of life. And you may not be able to change your current situation. But you can take steps to manage the impact these moments have on you. You can learn to identify what causes you stress and how to take care of yourself physically and emotionally in stressful situations.
Stress management strategies include:
- Have discipline for a healthy diet, regular exercise and quality sleep;
- Practice relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing, massage or meditation.
- Keep a journal and write about your thoughts or what you are grateful for in your life.
- Make time for your hobbies;
- Promoting healthy friendships;
- Have a sense of humor and find ways to include humor and laughter in your life, such as watching funny movies or visiting joke websites.
- Organize and prioritize what you need to get done at home and work and remove non-essential tasks.
- Say no to extra responsibilities and tasks when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
- Seek professional advice, which can help you develop specific coping strategies to manage stress.
- Avoid unhealthy ways to “relieve stress,” such as using alcohol, tobacco, drugs, or overeating. If you’re concerned that your use of these products has increased or changed due to stress, talk to your doctor.
The rewards for learning to manage stress can include peace of mind, less stress and anxiety, better quality of life, improvement in conditions like high blood pressure, better self-control and focus, and better relationships. And it can even lead to a longer, healthier life.