How Stress is Affecting Your Physical Well-Being
Stress is an inevitable part of our lives, and we all experience it in different ways. Whether it's due to work pressure, personal relationships, or financial issues, stress can take a toll on your physical and mental health. While occasional stress is a normal part of life, chronic stress can have severe consequences on your physical well-being.
Stress originates when your body/mind experiences a threat. The threat could be real (being chased by a bear or losing your job), or it could be a perceived threat (i.e. lying awake worrying “what if” every night). No matter the threat, your nervous system responds by sounding an alarm and preparing the body to respond quickly. The reactions include increased heart rate and breathing, surges of hormones, and increased blood pressure to name a few.
These responses are meant to help in short-term “fight or flight” situations to increase your chances of survival. Unfortunately, in the modern world full of stress, this response is not a great long term plan for your health.
Ten Ways Chronic Stress Impacts Your Health
- Increased Belly Fat: When you’re stressed, your body signals the release of cortisol, which causes an increase in the fat around the waist and organs, called visceral abdominal fat. This type of fat produces cytokines, which cause inflammation. Extended inflammation from visceral abdominal fat can increase your risk for heart disease, vascular disease, blood sugar issues, depression, and dementia.
- Food Intolerances, Sensitivities, and Allergies: While stress doesn't cause food intolerances, sensitivities, and allergies, it can intensify them. Stress can make the gut more sensitive to what you eat, and can make existing allergies worse.
- Leaky Gut: Chronic stress can exhaust the body's ability to secrete mucin, which protects against damage to the small intestine and colon during stress. This affects the mucosal barrier, thus contributing to the development or aggravation of leaky gut.
- Elevated Blood Sugar Levels: The body releases glucose into the blood when stressed. This fuels your ancient flight or fight response, but at the same time, cortisol prevents the body from producing insulin, which is the hormone that carries glucose into our cells. This results in too much glucose in the blood, elevating blood sugar levels and setting your body up for insulin resistance.
- Increased Inflammation: More stress means more inflammation… More inflammation means more stress… Which means more inflammation. See where I’m going, here? This negative feedback loop can lead to anxiety and depression.
- An Altered Microbiome: The more stressed you are, the less healthy bacteria you tend to have in your gut. Both mental and physical stress can negatively affect the microbiome.
- Increased Acid Reflux, Indigestion, GERD, and Ulcers: Many people experience obvious gastrointestinal issues when they are chronically stressed.
- Intensified IBS Symptoms: Stress increases the sensitivity in your gut, and a person experiencing irritable bowel syndrome is already experiencing gut hypersensitivity, so chronic stress increases triggers and intense flare-ups.
- Increased Risk of Developing Small-Bowel Intestinal Overgrowth (SIBO): Digestion is affected by stress, and can cause either faster or slower digestive transit time. The slower the transit time, the higher the likelihood of developing SIBO, especially in people experiencing chronic stress.
- Impaired Immunity: Excess cortisol suppresses immune function. When we are chronically stressed, our immune function is suppressed, which can lead to getting sick more often.
There are many other ways that stress affects your health, but did you realize how much your digestive tract could be affected? Your body is a complex machine, and the gut-brain connection is very real. When one area of your body or mind is stressed, it affects so many other things!
Stress is an unavoidable part of life, and we all experience it at some point. While occasional stress can be helpful in motivating us to achieve our goals, chronic stress can have severe consequences on our overall well-being. However, by recognizing the signs of stress and taking proactive steps to manage it, we can improve our physical and mental health. Simple lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, meditation, and healthy eating habits can help us manage stress levels effectively. By taking care of ourselves, we can lead happier and healthier lives.
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