We all know stress in some form or another, but did you know that stress can have a major impact on not just your psychological health, but your physical health as well? Stress can even lead to fat accumulation and weight gain.
In this article, we’ll go over the physical effects that stress takes on the body and some ways to combat the effects, reduce your overall stress and live a happier, healthier lifestyle.
There are two types of stress: acute (abrupt and short-term) and chronic (over a long-term period).
Acute stress activates our “fight or flight” response, leading to increased sympathetic nervous system activity. In other words, everything gets “revved up”, resulting in;
- a release of Norepinephrine and Epinephrine
- an increase in blood pressure
- constriction of blood vessels
- increased heart rate
- decreased blood flow to the kidneys
- increased blood flow to the brain to improve cognitive functioning
In addition, acute stress also affects our metabolism, causing an increase in glucose levels (blood sugar), which can lead to weight gain and our physical pain tolerance.
Chronic stress triggers a “submit and stay” response, which can lead to increased body fat. Some of the effects of chronic stress are;
- increased stress hormones
- high blood pressure
- preterm labor during pregnancy
- increased body fat (especially in the abdomen)
- increased food craving
- decreased memory and reasonable thinking
- weakened immune system
- decreased pain tolerance
So, what can you do?
To be human is to stress. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to remove all forms of stress from your life, but there are things you can do to relieve it.
1. GET MOVING
Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to combat stress. It lowers your body’s stress hormones and releases endorphins which improve your mood and act as natural painkillers. (I’ll go into this more in my next blog and there’s a podcast episode that really delves into this topic too. You can listen to that here.)
But exercise doesn’t have to be running on a treadmill or lifting weights. There are so many ways to get your body moving and your heart pumping that doesn’t involve a gym at all!
2. REDUCE CAFFEINE
Caffeine, a stimulant found in coffee, tea, chocolate and energy drinks, when consumed in high doses can increase anxiety.
If you notice that caffeine makes you jittery or anxious, it’s time to consider cutting back.
Although many studies show that coffee can actually be healthy in moderation, it’s important to note that it’s not for everyone. Try cutting back your caffeine intake and see if you feel less anxiety overall.
*When cutting back caffeine, some people experience headaches. This is because caffeine is an addictive substance. When we cut back, our bodies react. This is normal and the headaches are typically mild, short-lived, and can be combated with over-the-counter headache relief medicine.
You may think it sounds silly, but writing down your feelings, good and bad, can greatly impact your mental health. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be a brightly colored sparkly book like you may have had in grade school. There are tons of classy, grown-up versions available now. (I personally use a leather-bound journal.)
Carry it with you. When you start to feel overwhelmed, take it out and write. Write, doodle, however you want to express your feelings. Also, try to write in the journal when you’re feeling particularly happy or grateful. It can help to go back and read those entries when you’re having a bad moment. I do a further deep dive into the mindset work on my podcast.
4. LEARN TO SAY NO
This is a big one. While not all stressors are within your control, some are. It starts by taking control of the aspects of your life that you can change and are causing you stress.
One way to do this may be to say “no” more often. This is especially true if you often find yourself taking on more than you can handle.
Being selective about what you take on and saying no to things that will unnecessarily add to your load can significantly reduce your stress levels. You don’t have to please everyone. You’re one person. Practice saying no. You’ll be surprised how good it feels.
5. STOP PROCRASTINATING
How many times have we all thought about something we had to do but didn’t really want to do and we waited till the last minute? Procrastination can lead you to act reactively and scrambling to catch up.
Get a calendar or a to-do list that you can hang on the wall or fridge where you can see it. Work on the things that need to get done today and give yourself chunks of uninterrupted time.
Get in the habit of making a to-do list organized by priority. Give yourself realistic deadlines and stick to them.
The bottom line…
Although stress and anxiety affect everyone, there are many ways to reduce the pressure you feel.
Exercise, mindfulness, and improving your eating habits can all work to relieve anxiety and improve your overall work-life balance.
Till next time, stay healthy!
Dr. Kristine LaRocca
*Disclaimer: Although I am a medical doctor, I am not YOUR doctor. So the things I teach are not to be used as medical advice. You should consult your physician to discuss what is best for you personally.
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