Stress is a natural response that releases hormones into the body.? You have two types of stress responses:
Eustress – Good stress: helps you to feel invigorated, motivated, excited and promotes creativity, achievement and well being. Eustress helps you to achieve your goals such as competing in a sporting event, getting a promotion at work or losing weight.
Distress – Bad stress: zaps your energy physically, emotionally and mentally if it occurs over an extended period of time. You feel as though you cannot cope with the demands on you or that although the demands outweigh your coping reserves you keep pushing on absolutely exhausted.
Your stress responses can occur via two different stress pathways:
- Fight-flight: short lived response to a physical threat.
- Resistance: chronic or long term response to accumulated perceived emotional threats.
Each response releases the same hormones however, the longer the hormones remain in your body the more they create imbalances in other systems and hormones in your body.
There are three main hormones that are released during a stress response:
- epinephrine (adrenaline) body first releases. It rapidly releases glucose and fatty acid into your bloodstream to increase energy, reduce your sensitivity to pain and make your senses and memory sharper.
- Cortisol increases blood sugar and blood pressure and reduces immune responses.? Loss of collagen in the skin, stimulates gastric acid secretion, inhibits loss of sodium,acts as a water diuretic, increases risk of osteoporosis, the second chemical to be released and stays in the body longer and continues to affect brain cells.
- norepinephrine (noradrenalin) creates new memories, improves mood, improves creating thinking and stimulates new brain connections. Increases heart rate, triggers the release of glucose and increases blood flow to the muscles.
During the stress response unnecessary functions are slowed or shut down.? Some examples include growth, reproduction, immunity, and blood flow to the skin. This is why the chronic nature of resistance stress can cause:
- physical illness such as colds and flue
- skin infections such as eczema, cold sores, staph infections (boils), thrush
- sexual dysfunction or lack of sexual desire/libido
- poor memory, thinking and concentration as brain cells are being damaged or killed
- increases in anxiety as you are in a constant state of overdrive
- sleeping pattern disruptions e.g. mainly insomnia due to overdrive of thoughts/emotions
- hypersensitivity to negative emotional cues and over-reaction to situations
- depression (only after extreme periods of stress)
- elevated blood pressure and heart rate leading to heart attacks and stroke
- weight gain particularly in abdominal fat as cortisol receptors are found in the abdomen and are believed to increase fat storage
- stress leads to addiction as it is a natural response to want to reduce the negative feelings.? Some comfort, soothe, nurture, and/or calm by using external substances such as food, alcohol, drugs.
Research also shows that there are gender differences in stress pathways. A study found that men react to stress with a fight-flight pathway whereas women react by nurturing and seeking support.
The fight-flight response to stress makes men more vulnerable to developing:
- Aggressive or abusive disorders
One explanation for the different response is a hormone that is produced in response to stress called Oxytocin. It helps to reduce anxiety and increase socialisation and maternal behaviours. Although produced by both men and women, male hormones decrease the effects while estrogen amplifies the effects.
The triggers for stress for men and women have also been found to be different. For men, the main stress triggers are work, job loss and divorce. For women it is lack of emotional support.
How do you deal with your stress.
There are positive and negative responses to stress. Most of the negative ways of coping with stress actually contribute to weight gain, increases in stress hormone release and further imbalances in all hormones and body systems. Here are some of the common negative responses to stress that contribute to weight gain:
Eating or Cravings: you may try to dampen your stress with food. It has been proven that foods high in refined carbohydrates, fat, salt and sugar gives you a high similar to that of addictive drugs. Any time you eat more than you normally would, eat outside of normal patterns or have cravings for calorie dense foods, you know that you are trying to eat away your stress. This will be adding extra calories and if not burnt off – equals more body fat.
Addictions:when you use any substance to dampen emotions and stress, you are creating an addictive cycle. All substances of addiction have negative consequences on mood, behaviour, sleep, health and weight.The main contributing substances to weight gain are food, alcohol, caffeine and mild marijuana use.
Poor sleeping patterns: stress hormone imbalances leads to a change in serotonin (feel good chemical) and melatonin (sleep chemical). The stress hormones creates a change in your thinking and emotional patterns (and can cause anxiety) and this alters your sleep patterns by usually causing insomnia or nightmares or night terrors (rarer). Lack of sleep alters your hunger and fullness hormones resulting in cravings and overeating. Addictive substances interfere with sleeping patterns also.
Fatigue:as a result of lack of sleep you will feel more exhausted and less likely to have the energy to want to do anything active or do anything else that may tax your already busy schedule. Fatigue also causes a lack of motivation for exercise or to eat healthy so you are more likely to grab pre-packaged foods or fast foods. Addictive substances will make you feel more sluggish and therefore, you will have less available energy.
Lack of Exercise: It is common for exercise to one of the first things to be dropped when life gets too busy, fatigue and lack of motivation exist. By not exercising you are not burning calories and you are allowing the stress hormones to overtake your system and naturally your fat stores are increasing. When you do not exercise, your muscle mass decreases and your fat increases naturally.
Little Relaxation or Downtime: you are probably thinking,
you are probably thinking, what is that Again, relaxation, downtime, fun, positive socialising are all the things that are removed from a stress schedule. This increases the hormonal imbalance further and the fat stores further increase.
How to Change the Balance
If you are trying to lose weight or get healthier you need to outsmart the stress hormones and find a better hormonal balance. There is no such thing as stress elimination. However, you can put a couple of things in place that can make all of the difference. In other connected articles, I will give you further tips on how to alter stress in your external world. The tips in this article are purely about you and how to gain better balance.
Nutrition : the key to good nutrition when stressed is ORGANISATION. If you have healthy snacks with you at all times then you are less likely to buy calorie dense foods.Remember that your digestive system is slowed down during stress so you need to eat foods that are easy to digest and are nutritious.For example, fruits and vegetables are easy to digest and will give you natural energy. Some important foods include:
- Low fat milk
- Brown rice
- High fibre, whole grains
- Dark green vegetables
- Dried apricots
- Sweet potatoes
- Lean protein
As your digestive system is slower, you will need to try and fire it up again and by eating smaller amounts no more than 4 hours apart you will help achieve this.
Deep Breathing: stress causes you to shallow breathe into the top part of your lungs. By taking long deep breaths and filling your entire lung capacity into your stomach you will naturally reverse the stress pathway and allow the release of serotonin, the feel good hormone. This is one of the chemicals you would normally release briefly when you overeat or have a binge. Instead of bingeing take long deep breaths and tell yourself to relax until the feeling of stress reduces by at least half. If you are a smoker, try replacing every 2nd cigarette with this technique. Still follow your normal pattern e.g. going outside.
5-10 minute workout: taking 5-10 minutes break every hour from what you are doing will change your stress levels dramatically. By getting up and stretching, going for a quick walk, go outside instead of being indoors, find a step and do some step ups or walk up and down.By creating your own 5-10 minute office workout you will be improving the release of stress beating hormones, burning calories and overall feeling as though you can focus and think clearer. The Mind & Body Power program will have more of these workouts for you to view, just go to the website.
Get Moving: 30 minutes of activity has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression as well as stress. You will also feel more energized, may be not straight away, but give it a week or so and you will feel the difference.It will also help you sleep better. If you have no motivation to exercise, why not build a network of support around you.Sometimes we need to put strategies in place to make us change. If you have no motivation you may need vicarious motivation get it from others. Get a group of people together and all exercise together. If one person pulls out of a group you still have the others who are committed. Resistance or strength training is particularly important as it builds muscle mass and helps to burn fat faster.
Gradual Changes: making small changes to your life will make big changes over a lifetime. If you have addictions, seek to gradually reduce them instead of cutting them out immediately. There will be less pain and you are more likely not to return to the habit. Learning about yourself as you make changes and replacing negative behaviors with positive ones will create lifestyle changes.
Support:get support while you are going through a stressful time. The more you can feel supported either by friends, family or a professional therapist, the more likely you are to be able to cope better and move past the stressful time quicker.
Downtime: relaxation, hobbies, having fun, socialising, etc are really important to finding a good balance. Some people find that to release their stress they need to journal or write, others find that meditation works, other people need to be social. Whatever you need to find fun and release the stress busting hormones you need to find it and partake in it at least every day or twice a week minimum.