What Stress Does to the Body
Did you know that stress related illness is the number one reason people are off sick from work? That 4.8 million days are lost every year from just work related stress alone. That’s something to think about…
Hans Salye, one of the founding fathers of stress research has defined stress as ‘The non specific response of the body to any demand for change’. He suggests stress not only has an impact on our emotional wellbeing but on our physical health too.
Walter Bradford Cannon a Harvard physiologist described the fight or flight response as a physiological reaction when we perceive something harmful/life threatening like a saber tooth tiger. We get a rush of energy to either fight this tiger off or run away. When this fight or flight response is activated chemicals like adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are released into our blood stream. This causes: Increased arousal, alertness, cognition, focus. Increased respiratory rate, gluconeogenesis and lipolysis. Increased blood pressure and heart rate and altered cardiovascular tone, decreased insulin sensitivity, protein catabolism and more …
We basically become physically and psychologically ready to fight. The only problem is that we aren’t faced with a tiger that’s a threat to our survival, instead we initiate the same response to: Rush hour traffic, deadlines, being late for a meeting, arguments, kids, schedules – basically trying to juggle life!
Long term activation of the stress response can lead to a number of disease processes from this build up of stress hormones, including: Headaches, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, chronic fatigue, susceptibility to infection, autoimmune disease, insomnia, sleep disturbances, low energy and allergies, to name a few.
Stress even has an impact on how we age! Telomeres are caps on the end of each strand of DNA and it protects our chromosomes - like plastic tips at the end of a shoelace. Without this coating shoelace’s become frayed until they can no longer be laced – in the same way DNA strands become damaged and our cells can’t do their job.
Stress is associated with a shorter telomere length. In a study women who had the highest levels of perceived stress had telomeres shorter by an average of 10 years of additional ageing compared to low stress women. This increased stress also increases oxidative stress in the body which further accelerates ageing…
Some Basic Essentials to Help Combat Stress:
Sit in a comfortable place and concentrate on your breathing. Take deep breaths into your belly and then exhale slowly. Breathe in for 3 seconds, hold it for 2 seconds and slowly exhale for 4.
A slow exhale is important as this stimulates the vagus nerve to calm the sympathetic nervous system and activates the parasympathetic nervous system to help us relax and calm our mind.
Blood Sugar Balance
Cortisol and blood glucose have a very close relationship. In times of stress glucose is mobilized into the blood stream by cortisol. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) also causes the release of cortisol.
If you are skipping meals or eating meals with simple carbohydrates and no protein you can create a hypoglycemic state that will trigger the release of cortisol. You can combat this by having protein in every meal and snack, as this will help keep blood sugar levels stable.
Caffeine increases cortisol production. If you’re a chronically stressed person you want to skip the coffee. Opt for something like a matcha latte or green tea instead which has the added benefit of L-theanine which is more calming and counteracts the stimulation from the caffeine.
Magnesium is known as Natures Tranquilizer and is a great support to the nervous system by helping to reduce tension, calm your nerves and improve sleep.
Add magnesium rich foods to your diet: Dark leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, avocado and dark chocolate!
You could also opt for a supplement or an Epsom salt bath in the evening. Epsom salts contain magnesium and helps to relax your body before you sleep. Just dissolve 1 cup in a warm bath and immerse yourself in it for 15-20 minutes.
If there is one change you can make, add a green smoothie to your day. All leafy green vegetables are full of magnesium (see above) and a smoothie is a great way to get them in. Add some protein to support healthy blood sugar levels and ginger to help blunt the stress response. Another great addition is coconut oil which is an MCT oil and helps with energy.
Green Smoothie Example:
- One handful of kale
- One handful of spinach
- One cup of pineapple
- Small piece of ginger
- 1 tsp coconut oil
- Piece of cucumber
- 1 scoop Pulsin Unflavoured Pea Protein Powder
- Water or a nut milk to gain desired consistency.
Christianson, A (2014). The Adrenal Reset Diet. USA: Harmony Books. p136-‐137.
Delarue J et al (2003). Fish oil prevents the adrenal activation elicited by mental stress in healthy mean. Diabetes Metab; 29:289-‐95
Epel ES et al (2004). Accelerated telomere shortening in response to life stress. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. Dec 7;101(49):17312-5
Wilson, J (2001). Adrenal Fatigue. USA: Smart Publications. all.
Brogan, K (2016). A Mind of Your Own. USA: Harper Collins. p32-34.