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Is Stress Really Bad for your Health?

#balance #balance #wellness #healthandwellness #healthylifestyle #stress #wellnessjourney #womenshealth Jun 27, 2023

We have all heard that stress is not good for our health, and the World Health Organization has deemed stress the epidemic of the 21st century. Called the “silent killer.” Even though we have heard this time and time again, we may not take the time to understand what the big hoopla is all about fully. Why should you care? Is it really that bad for your health? It is almost impossible to be absolutely stress-free in our lives, but the key is to find healthy ways to manage our stress. In this article, we will explore why stress causes several physical ailments (both noticed and unnoticed). First, let’s take a look at how the stress response works in the body.

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Sympathetic vs Parasympathetic (all the things that happen)

A part of our central nervous system is called the autonomic nervous system. It makes up the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous system. Basically, they are like 2 parts making up a whole. When our stress response is activated, the sympathetic part of this system speeds is activated. It speeds up our heart rate and increases our blood pressure, our respirations become quicker, and certain hormones are released into our bloodstream; adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. Blood flow is then routed away from our vital body systems.

This was a survival mechanism for humans when we run from danger. You may recall the famous description of the human running from the lion. This is the perfect example. But the problem is that our brain does not know the difference between the stress from running from that lion or when we are stuck in grid-locked traffic when we are supposed to be at an important meeting. The same response occurs. When we are constantly in stress mode, this response is constantly activated. This leads to inflammation, immune responses, which negatively impact our health.

The parasympathetic part of our autonomic nervous system that is often referred to as the “rest and digest” part is activated when the body is in a relaxed state. The opposite occurs when we are in a relaxed state; the heart rate slows down, blood pressure decreases, and our breathing is slow and even. As a result, our body can carry out all vital mechanisms with much more ease, hence the “rest and digest” nickname. Basically, everything is working as it should when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated.

How Stress is Bad For Our Digestive Health

When you are in a stress response, the body recognizes that you are in danger. All vital mechanisms will slow to respond to the “danger” that is perceived. Digestion is the perfect example. When your body is in fight or flight, digestion cannot occur. Blood flow can route away from our digestive system and move to our arms and legs (so we can run from that lion). Digestion and assimilation of nutrients then stop. Your body has innate wisdom and knows exactly what you need. It is trying to help you. Again, it cannot tell the difference between you being stuck in traffic or running for your life.  To your body, they are equally as urgent and activate the stress response in the same way.

The important thing is that your body cannot heal, release weight, and excrete toxins while in this state. Why? Because everything is slowing down. That means when you are in a constant stress response, not only are you not absorbing nutrients, you can’t physically heal, and your body is holding onto the weight and the toxins. Toxins actually are stored in your fat cells, and they can remain there for years to come.

Do you ever eat, and it feels like you have a rock sitting in your gut, no matter what it is that you ate? Who were you when you ate that meal? Are you eating at warp speed or stressed to the max when you inhaled that sandwich? Basically, the breakdown of protein, fat, and carbs in the stomach is impaired with the slow digestive response. Furthermore, the saliva diminishes. This decreases important digestive enzymes to break down our food.

Above, when we talked about parasympathetic vs. sympathetic, you can really think about it as a switch. When the stress response (or sympathetic NS) is turned on, digestion is turned off. When the stress response is turned off, digestion is turned on.   The bottom line is that digestive stress and discomfort are only about 25% of what you are eating. The other 75% comes from who you are when you eat.

Is Stress Keeping On the Pounds?

So, when you are in this constant stress response, remember your digestion slows or even stops. When you eat “stressed out,” your body collects the calories you take and stores them as fat. Why does this happen? Again, your body perceives danger and thinking you may need it due to the impact of the fight or flight response.

Let’s go back to the autonomic nervous system again. Once the parasympathetic has been activated, our metabolism starts to increase. This means when we relax, we actually burn more fat. So even when we are experiencing chronic stress on a low constant level (which most of us are), we will have lower fat-burning power.

Another reason why chronic stress keeps on the pounds is due to the hormone called cortisol. Those who primarily gain and hold onto fat around the middle tend to chronic stress and experience excess cortisol production. This has much to do with cortisol’s intricate relationship with insulin and blood sugar balance.


Cortisol is an important hormone our body creates. This hormone releases by our adrenal gland. To read more about the relationship between cortisol, adrenal fatigue, and insulin check out this article. You may have heard cortisol referred to as “the stress hormone” or the “longevity hormone”. Cortisol has a natural circadian rhythm, much like our sleep/wake cycle. This hormone is not all bad and plays a very important role in our body’s mechanisms. When cortisol produces in excess, we start to see its negative effects. As mentioned above, too much cortisol is going to keep on those pounds. Furthermore, an overload can be toxic to your body. When we are in cortisol overload, consistently, it can really take a toll. The accumulation of cortisol ends up in our bloodstream and can cause damage at a cellular level. Other effects of cortisol overload are:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased belly fat
  • Impaired immunity
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Impaired cognitive performance
  • Decreased bone density
  • Decreased muscle tissue
  • Thyroid impairment

Cortisol can affect all areas of your health, from weight gain to sleep disturbances, as well as depression. It is powerful and is one of the hormones, along with insulin, that creates a foundation for all other hormones to remain balanced. If you can imagine a house with a sturdy foundation (cortisol and insulin), and all the hormones in the body are building your house frame on that foundation. You know that if your foundation is not solid, your house will fall.

Stress and the Immune System

Let’s look at how stress can be bad for your immune system. The immune system goes completely haywire when we are in stress response. Just take into consideration all the physical symptoms that occur with the stress response, I.E increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased respirations, vital bodily actions being, such as digestion, becomes slowed or absent. All these mechanisms have their own risk factors and will cause decreased immunity.  Our immune systems can take brief periods of stress, but long-term chronic stress will make it very challenging to have a strong immune system, which is imperative for optimal health.

Ways that We Can Start Managing Stress

Mindful eating- When people experience stress, they tend to eat. Just the everyday stress of your job can make you want to mindlessly consume a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream in one sitting. Binge eating is psychological and usually stems from stress. Additionally, daily alcohol consumption (to calm the nerves) has its negative effects as well. Eating and drinking can become a comfort for people during stressful times, but it is only a way of stuffing down the root of the stress.

Honoring “no”-It is not necessary to always meet the expectations of others. Sometimes it is hard to say no, but we need not overextend ourselves and concentrate on our own needs and goals. It is ok to say “no”! Boundaries are important for emotional health!

Quit smoking!- Aside from the obvious health risks, smoking acts as a stimulant and brings on more symptoms of stress.

Get moving!- we will look more at the benefits it has on immunity, but I am sure you’ve heard that exercise releases endorphin, which naturally decreases stress and makes you feel good! So choose an exercise that is right for your body and season of life while setting reasonable goals!

Relaxation and Self Care- although exercise is important, so is relaxation! The key is to balance aerobic exercise with deep relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation. Add invaluable time for yourself doing something that you love! Hooray for self-care!

Reduce Everyday Stressors- most people’s biggest complaints of stress are the number of demands in their life. Unfortunately, most of these are demands that we have chosen to undertake. Remove unnecessary responsibilities, and for those things that we cannot remove, finding an effective time-management system, asking for help, setting reasonable goals and priorities, and taking time for yourself becomes essential. Control what you can and leave behind what you cannot!

Set realistic goals and expectations- We need goals to grow, but it’s okay, to not be successful at everything at once. This is not healthy and just significantly adds to your stress level!

Breathe- Deep breathing will assist you in finding calm in a stressful moment. Performing a deep breathing exercise several times a day is an amazing stress-relieving activity. As a bonus, it provides much-needed oxygen to your vital organs: )

Be Grateful– We often find all the things that are “wrong” or not going well. Concentrate on the things that are going well and have gratitude for those things and those people in your life. It will immediately reduce the feeling of stress when you are grateful.

Love Yourself- Feeling overwhelmed? Remind yourself of what you do well. Have a healthy sense of self-esteem!

Meditation- We create dopamine when we meditate (that’s the feel-good hormone). We all also create endorphins that give us energy and help relieve pain and tension in the body. In addition, a neurotransmitter called GABA is enhanced after a meditation session; this can enhance tranquility and enhances mood. It creates Serotonin which helps considerably with your sleep cycle, mood, and balancing your appetite.

Curb Negative Thinking- Be mindful of your thoughts. We are taking in thousands of thoughts every day. If you have a negative or stressful thought, engage in them. Be mindful as to what they are but don’t act on each one. We tend to work ourselves up and dwell on things that are not important at the moment or maybe not relative to us at all. How many times have you heard a story, and it just ticked you off, and then you just dwelled on it for hours. Maybe even days. You have got to learn to let things go that you have no control over.

Do you think Stress may be affecting your health? Let me know!  Book a call with me today and we can discuss!