What is Stress?

Generally speaking, stress means pressure or strain. Life constantly subjects us to pressures. In people, stress can be physical (as in having disease), emotional (as in feeling grief), or psychological (as in being afraid).

Genes and things that happen to you early in life, even when in the womb, can affect how you handle stressful situations. Overeating, smoking, drinking, and not exercising, which are often reactions to being under stress, can add to the negative health effects of stress.

What is the stress response?

The best-known acute stress response is the “fight or flight” reaction that happens when you feel threatened. In this case, the stress response causes the body to release several stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, into the bloodstream. These hormones increase your concentration, ability to react, and strength. Also, your heart rate and blood pressure increase, and your immune system and memory are sharper. After you have dealt with the short-term stress, your body returns to normal.

Chronic or long-term stress, however, poses a problem!

If you frequently face challenges, your body is constantly producing higher levels of stress hormones and does not have time to recover. These hormones over time can cause serious health problems.

How does chronic stress affect your health?

The bodily changes that happen during moments of stress can be very helpful when they happen for a short time.  But when this happens for a long period of time, producing too many stress hormones can affect your health. Health problems can include:

DIGESTIVE SYSTEM

Stomach pains, due to a slow-down in the rate that the stomach empties after eating; also diarrhea due to more activity in the colon.

WEIGHT PROBLEMS AND OBESITY 

Increase in appetite, which can lead to weight gain (particularly around the mid-section and face and neck). Being overweight or obese puts you at risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stoke.

IMMUNE SYSTEM

A compromised immune system so you are more likely to have colds, flue or other infections.

THE NERVOUS SYSTEM

Anxiety, depression, mood swings, loss of sleep and insomnia, memory and decision-making, brain fog, lack of interest in physical activity and apathy in general.

CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM

Increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and the level of fats in your blood (cholesterol and triglycerides). Also, increase in blood glucose levels, especially in the evening, and appetite. All of these are risk factors for heart disease, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), stroke, obesity, and diabetes.

How do you know when you’re stressed out?

When you experience short-term stress, you may feel anxious, nervous, distracted, worried, and pressured. If your stress level increases or lasts for a longer time, you might experience some of the physical or emotional effects mentioned above.

These symptoms may also lead to loss of appetite, overeating, and poor sleep, all of which can have serious effects on your health. Usually symptoms are minor and may be relieved through coping skills such as learning to relax, removing yourself for a time from the things that stress you out, and exercising. If the symptoms are severe, however, you may need help in addressing and managing your stress.

What can you do to reduce stress?

You can take practical steps to cut back on stress. Regular, moderate exercise improves thought process and mood. Other strategies include relaxing, getting a good night’s sleep, and seeking emotional support from family and friends. You can also reduce the long-term effects of chronic stress by eating a healthy diet and avoid drinking too much alcohol.

How can a Health & Nutrition Coach help?

A coach can help you in a number of ways –

  • Working out if your health problems being caused by stress
  • Giving you strategies and tools to lower the stress you’re feeling
  • Finding the best type of exercise is best for you and your situation (a coach is also qualified in Fitness).
  • Helping you find ways to stay healthy through diet, self-care and lifestyle changes.