Diet & Nutrition

What stress does to our bodies

Hint: It's not good

There’s no denying stress is, and always will be, part of our lives.

From dealing with our family, friends, and colleagues who need our attention, to worrying about cash-flow, a CV that needs re-writing and a cat that needs deworming, there’s no shortage of situations that can have us reaching for just one more glass of wine at the end of the day.

And while some stress can be beneficial (amping you up for a public speaking engagement or warning you against entering into a dangerous situation) chronic stress – that type we can feel tensing our shoulders day in, day out – is one of the worst things we can be subjecting our minds, and bodies, to.

In a TED Ed video titled How Stress Affects Your Body, Dr Sharon Bergquist explains how our adrenal glands release hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine when we’re stressed.

Adrenaline increases our heart rate, which in turn can raise blood pressure – and cortisol causes changes in blood vessels that can, over time, increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.

And if you’ve ever felt sick to your stomach when you’re stressed? Turns out that’s the brain relaying stress signals to our “second brain” or stomach, which can then go on to disturb the natural rhythms that are usually moving food through our system.

Too many of these “butterflies” in the stomach and you’re looking at an increased risk of irritable bowel syndrome and a sensitivity to acid, which will usually present itself as heartburn. Not to mention cortisol increases our appetites and has us craving carb-heavy comfort foods. Because we may as well be stressed about our waistlines, too!

Add acne, hair loss, sexual dysfunction, headaches, muscle tension, difficultly concentrating, fatigue and irritability, it’s very safe to say stress is out to do a real number on us.

So what do we do? (Besides drinking, which, again, not great.)

Bergquist suggests viewing stressful situations as challenges you can control and master, and says doing so will help us perform better in the short-term, as well as stay healthy in the long-run.

But when you can’t think yourself stress-free?

Research has shown playing calming music can help, as can venting to a friend. Exercise is a great way to expel nervous tension and energy, and meditating – even if only for 10 minutes a day – can be very beneficial.

Sipping on green tea can help, and even though that chocolate bar may feel good in the moment, reaching for a healthier option will pay dividends in the medium and long-term.

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