How Does Stress Affect my Body?

If there is one topic I am most passionate about it is stress. My friend from university used to joke with me that my hair was so curly because I was stressed all of the time. Although the curly hair theory doesn’t stack up, she had one thing right - I was chronically stressed.

Stress had impacted by health personally for a very long time. From eczema flares, to dry and brittle hair, to irregular period and digestive issues - stress showed up in all of its friendly ways throughout my adolescence. And despite it’s very evident impact on my health, I refused to acknowledge its presence or its impact.

Instead, what did I do? I chose to continue to distract myself from addressing my stress - I hunted down other reasons for the physical manifestations of my chronic fight or flight state. From visits to walk-in clinics to find out why my digestion wasn’t working properly, to trying food eliminations to heal my skin - I was anxious to get the answer and equally anxious that none of my problem-solving was working.

That was until I learnt the science behind stress.

Learning about the impact of stress was the best thing that ever happened to my health. The word relax took on a whole new meaning. For all my years pushing myself to find the reason behind my health problems, I knew that I could no longer look away from the root cause that had been staring me in the eye - my stress.

Stress is addictive. We become so used to stress that we don’t want to let it go. Who are we when we aren’t stressed? What will happen when we let go of control? What will we think about when we aren’t worried? Will we be as successful and great as we are now without it? Our brain becomes wired to search for stress the more fuel we give it to do so.

When it comes to nutrition, there are two forms of stress that often come up:

  1. We stress about the food we eat (or are worried about eating)

  2. We eat in a way that stresses our body out

Addressing stress from either (or both) of these angles is important for reducing our overall stress load and healing our bodies.

Here is 4 examples of common ways that stress can show up in our body.

IMPAIRED DIGESTION:

WHY? When we are stressed our body goes into fight or flight mode and shuts down our digestive system as it considers it non-essential in comparison to other bodily functions.

WEIGHT GAIN:

WHY? Chronic stress leads to elevated levels of cortisol which leads us to reach for high sugar and high fat foods. Chronic stress affects our blood sugar levels and causes us to store fat.

HORMONAL IMBALANCE

WHY? Ongoing and unmanaged stress causes our body to steal our sex hormone progesterone to make cortisol. This leads to an imbalanced estrogen - progesterone ratio.

CHRONIC FATIGUE

WHY? When we are stressed our body uses up its resources to keep up with the demands. If we do not manage our health and stress eventually our body's resources become depleted, leading to burn out.

Stress affects all of our body systems yet the impact of stress is different for everyone. Some feel it in their gut, some in their joints, some with their weight, some with their skin. And although all of our problems can’t be solved by reducing stress, it sure doesn’t hurt to crack open the bottle and take a sip of stress-reduction.

So where to start? How about answering these questions:

  • How stressed am I?

  • How could stress be impacting my health?

  • What do I do that adds more stress on myself than reduces it? Why do I do these things?

  • What solutions can I create to reduce stress?

  • What compassionate goals can I set to help me achieve stress reduction?

I’d love to hear about how stress impacts your nutrition, so do not hesitate to contact me to chat some more!

Andrea Zimmering