You may not realise it but stress can have a really negative effect on your health and wellbeing. Stress-related symptoms account for nearly 90% of consultations with GPs. Everything from irritable bowel syndrome and sleep problems to weight gain and even type 2 diabetes can be linked to stress in some way.
What is our stress response?
Our body’s natural stress response is there to support us when there is a genuine threat to life. It’s called our fight or flight response and is designed to help us fight or run away from danger. But those types of dangerous situations were only expected to happen once in a while. The modern world has evolved more quickly than our stress response and stressors are now a daily occurrence, sometimes multiple times a day. More often than not they don’t require us to fight or run away, but our body is still responding in the same way. It produces adrenaline and cortisol which triggers the release of glucose into the bloodstream to power the muscles, increases our heart rate to pump blood to the muscles, quickens our breathing and switches off all non-essential functions in the body. In the short term, this is fine, but long term or if it’s happening too regularly this response can cause some significant health issues. Here are some of the most common symptoms I see in my clinic which are often triggers or mediated by stress.
1. Digestive issues
When we’re stressed our body turns off our digestive system because if you’re about to die digesting your last meal isn’t essential. This can cause a myriad of digestive discomfort including bloating, pain, indigestion, diarrhoea and constipation.
2. Poor sleep
We’ve all been there, worry stops us falling asleep or wakes us in the middle of the night. A poor night’s sleep not only makes you feel pretty rubbish, it leads to issues the next day such as being more likely to reach for caffeine and sugar to keep you going and less likely to exercise which adds yet more stress to the body.
3. Brain fog
Short term stress can make our brains sharper and more focused but our brain fatigues easily and this stops it performing it’s best. You might find yourself struggling to concentrate or remember things, have difficulty thinking clearly or taking in information. These are all signs stress is impacting your long term health and your body is struggling.
4. Muscle tension
No surprises here, when we’re stressed it shows in our body with tight, sore muscles – typically around the neck and shoulders but it could be elsewhere too. Our body is getting ready to fight or run away but if stress doesn’t require a physical response our muscles never switch off leaving them feeling constantly tense. This uses more energy, increases our fatigue and causes pain which triggers – you guessed it – yet more stress in the body.
5. Reduced immunity
Like our digestive system if our body senses danger it switches-off our immune system to direct resources to other more vital areas of the body. If you’re someone who gets ill every time the holidays come round or feel exhausted and run down every weekend, it might be a sign that your body is stressed so often it can’t launch an effective immune response until you stop and relax, then bam – it all catches up with you.
6. Weight gain
When we’re stressed our body pumps glucose into the bloodstream to power the muscles to fight or run away. But if that excess glucose isn’t used up through movement, it’s stored as fat, most often around the middle. That’s because the body can quickly and easily convert fat back into glucose when it next needs it, and if you’re someone who is constantly stressed, in your body’s opinion the next stressful event is probably just around the corner so best store it ready for quick use as fat.
So what’s the answer?
Trying to ‘stress less’ simply won’t work because most causes of stress are external factors beyond your control – like a global pandemic!⠀
Instead, take control and make changes which boost your resilience to stress. So you’re better able to cope with the inevitable stresses of life. There are simple diet and lifestyle changes which can improve your resilience to stress many of which I share in my Boost your Resilience to Stress Masterclass – find out more here. Or speak to me about a 1:1 to see if a personalised plan will be more helpful to you.