Ask most people if they’re stressed and their answer will be an automatic, exasperated “YES!” While many realize it’s not exactly fun to live with the burden of stress, most of us brush it off like it’s no big deal. Unfortunately, a lot of us don’t realize just how negatively it can impact our health, and in turn, our overall quality of life. Stress can sabotage all of our hard-working efforts to live a healthy, simple life. Even if we ate perfectly PFC balanced 100% of the time, exercised just the right amounts, and consistently took the highest quality supplements, all that hard work goes out the window if stress overshadows it all.
What It Is:
Acute vs. Chronic Stress: The two types of stress are acute and chronic. Although some short-term stress isn’t necessarily a big deal, any type of stress can interfere with reaching our goals.
Acute: This type of stress is the most common and short-lived, and is associated with everyday stressors. Acute stress can be thrilling in small amounts, but becomes a problem when it persists. Examples of acute stress include meeting deadlines, worrying about being late for an appointment, and getting stuck in traffic. Symptoms of acute stress may include anxiety, headaches, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and/or muscle pain.
Chronic: This type of stress is a lot more serious and unfortunately, many of us are dealing with it on an ongoing basis. When all those small stressors continue piling up and we fail to manage them, chronic stress develops. This type of stress wears us down and can manifest in many different ways, such as depression, hypertension, insomnia, acne, strokes, weight gain, migraines and more. Many of us have been dealing with chronic stress for months and even years, which is incredibly detrimental to our health. Our bodies are not designed for this type of stress, so in turn, inflammation develops. Since inflammation is the root cause of chronic disease, it’s vital to manage our stress levels to prevent this type of damage.
Physical vs. Emotional Stress:
Stress can manifest in a variety of ways; both physically and emotionally. No matter the culprit, we have the power to change whether it damages our lives or not!
Physical: In some ways, this type of stress can be the easiest to control because it involves external triggers, yet it can also be the most difficult because it usually requires lifestyle changes. If you’re experiencing lack of sleep, ingesting toxic chemicals, consuming too much sugar and/or processed foods, suffering from imbalanced blood sugars, and/or over-exercising, it may be time to make some serious changes. (Side note: Although we’ve been told that exercise is good for us (it is!) over-exercising and not giving your body time to rest and recover can be a major source of stress, and in turn, inflammation in our body. This is one of the reasons Cassie made the choice to no longer run marathons.)
Emotional stress: This type of stress is far too common in today’s world. Examples of emotional stress include worrying, feelings of insecurity, overthinking, sadness, anger and anxiety. While emotional stress may be more difficult to control than physical stress, there are a variety of ways to work on managing it.
Why You Should Care About It:
- Stress causes elevated blood sugars (and high blood sugars lead to weight gain). When we’re stressed, our brain triggers the release of cortisol (our stress hormone). Cortisol causes our blood sugars to rise and the release of another hormone called insulin (our fat-storing hormone), whose main responsibility is to transport sugar from our bloodstream to our cells to be stored. Guess what the sugar is stored as? Fat! While insulin’s action is essential (it is toxic to have a surplus of sugar floating around our blood stream for too long), the downside of insulin being frequently released is that it usually overcompensates. What does that mean for us? Low blood sugars. And what do we crave when we have low blood sugar? Sugar! The spikes and crashes in blood sugars take us on a ride on the blood sugar roller coaster which can lead to a vicious cycle of weight gain and sugar and/or carbohydrate cravings. (Interesting that so often we blame weight gain on our lack of exercise, or the way we are eating (which could certainly be contributors), but we find that so often that what it really comes down to is hormonal balance.) High cortisol levels = increase in insulin secretion = stored fat = weight gain.
- Stress affects digestion. Our gut is where nutrients are absorbed, digested, and metabolized. When under stress, our ability to secrete the enzymes needed to break down our food is compromised. In turn, the muscles we use in our gut to help digest and move our food along are also weakened and if we aren’t able to move food along in our gut very well, we don’t absorb nutrients. Which brings me to my next point…
- Stress depletes our body of nutrients. During times of stress, our body becomes depleted of vital nutrients (especially our B Vitamins which help improve our moods!), even if we eat the perfect balance of PFC. When we can’t utilize the energy from our food, we feel tired and cranky; leading to a continuous cycle of unhealthy habits and a life that isn’t much fun.
- Stress reduces our immune function. Stress interferes with our gut health by decreasing the amount of good bacteria and weakening our gut lining. Without a strong gut permeability, it’s easy for toxins and pathogens to enter our bodies. When our immune function is impaired, we are more susceptible to sickness and colds. Sickness leads to even more stress and inflammation in our bodies. Another vicious and not fun cycle.
- Stress affects our mood. Stress alters our ability to think clearly because it interferes with the production of our feel-good brain chemicals (serotonin and dopamine) which are made in our gut. The less of these brain chemicals we have, the more likely we are to feel aggravated, moody, sad, and/or angry. Have you ever noticed that you are more likely to get angry or sad about something when you are stressed? It’s not a coincidence.
What You Can Do About It:
Everyone deals with stress, and the good news is that we have the power to manage it. Even if you don’t have a lot of stress going on in your life (which I’d applaud you for!) implementing preventative stress management techniques is important to keep you on that track.
Try following these two steps:
Step 1. Determine where your stress is coming from. The first step is to figure out what is causing stress in your life. Work? Family? Money? All of the above? Although we might not be able to change the source of our stress, it is possible to reframe how we handle it.
Step 2. Manage your stress. Stress management is critical both physically and mentally, as outlined in this post. Find a way to manage your stress in a healthy matter to prevent further damage. I’ll cover this in the next post.
Check out my next post for ideas on how to manage or reduce your stress level!
Have you found out the hard way that stress interferes with your health goals? Share in the comments below!