In today’s fast-paced world, the pandemic crisis, the increasing unemployment rate, the loss of homes, and the piling of financial debt, prolonged (chronic) stress is common, but your body and mind can pay a high price.
The purpose of this article is to provide you with the educational tools on how to recognize the symptoms and signs of overwhelming stress, its effects on the body, and ways to bring it to a minimal level.
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Why did I write this Article?
I wanted to let you know that I care about you and feel your pain because I am a victim as well.
Thinking about the situation and losing so much sleep trying to figure out ways to help people like you, I decided to research and write about the stress you and I are experiencing, how it affects our health especially body weight, and to provide you with various ways that helped me reduced my stress to a controllable level.
You might be wondering why not eliminate stress completely, but I want to let you know that every living thing especially humans needs a minimum level of stress to function. If there is no stress, our stress hormone cell will cease to function, and when we are experiencing a stressful situation our body will not be able to handle it and the result will be catastrophic leading to death.
Now let us define stress.
What is stress?
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of threat or demand. When you sense danger, whether it’s real or imagined, the body’s defense systems kick into high gear in a fast, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction also known as the “stress response.”
The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, alert, and energetic. In emergency situations, stress can save your life—giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for instance, if you come across a lion that is accidentally let loose from the zoo, or someone chases you with a gun.
Stress can also help you rise to meet challenges: It’s what drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be watching TV; keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work; and sharpens your attentiveness when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw.
Another example, people been treated with a steroid (cortisol) long-term can’t withstand major surgery because their body stops produce cortisol to handle the stress of 4 to 8 hours of a major surgical operation.
But beyond a certain point, stress seizes being useful and starts causing serious damage to your health, weight, mood, relationships, productivity, and your quality of life.
If you frequently find yourself feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, it’s time to take action to bring your nervous system back into balance. You can protect yourself—and improve how you feel and think.
By learning how to recognize the warning symptoms and signs of persistent (chronic) stress and taking the necessary steps to decrease its harmful effects.
The flight-or-fight response: Your body reaction
Whenever you feel threatened or sense danger, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, which rouse the body for emergency action. Your heartbeat rapidly, blood pressure hits the roof, muscle becomes tense, breath quickens, and your 7 senses become sharper. These physiological and physical changes increase your stamina and strength, speed up your reaction time, and enhance your focus-preparing you to either flee from (usually the case) or stand and fight (the brave) the danger or imminent threat at hand.
The role Stress (Cortisol) Plays in weight gain
We are living in a current world where billions of people are in lockdown due to the pandemic crisis; millions of people are losing their only source of living (unemployment skyrocketing); the future of millions is becoming uncertain, and children are being taught at home, and to make matter worst, the rate of sleep deprivation, including its associated negative impacts continue to rise up to the sky because you and I are stress like “H”.
As you are reading this article right now, there is no doubt a countless number of people are living in a constant state of stress.
How does excessive stress impact your health negatively?
- Weight gain
- Sleep problems
- Anxiety and depression
- Pain all over your body
- Autoimmune diseases
- Digestive problems
- 6. Skin conditions, e.g. eczema
- Heart diseases
- Reproductive issues
- Memory and thinking issues
How Does Stress Make YOU struggle to lose weight?
In the case of body weight, studies have shown that increasing and constant stress leads to weight gain and make it difficult to lose weight.
You might be wondering how so? You thought that too much stress supposed to make you lose weight. Well, that is “partially” true for some people, particularly when they restrict themselves from eating “junk” food. For example, during the loss of love, one’s by “AVOIDING FOOD” because they are mourning.
This brings a valid point that reducing the number of calories, eating healthy, and been actively living is a proper way to “Managed stress of life” and also having a regular high-quality sleep.
But for the majority of others like, probably like you and me, stress makes us eat more, snack excessively, particularly on junk foods.
According to Trusted Source, the increase in cortisol level promotes fat storage in your belly instead of the excess calories that you eat being stored as fat all over the body. In many people, stress drives overeating. But instead of the excess calories being stored as fat all over the body, cortisol promotes fat storage in the belly (Trusted Source). Unfortunately, it can lead to weight gain when produced in excess, especially in the abdominal region.
Per Epel, et al. (2000), central fat distribution is linked to greater psychological vulnerability to stress and cortisol reactivity, which may be true particularly for lean women, who are not used to having repeated stress. This study findings also shows a link between psychological stress and risk for disease.
What does this mean in simple term, women who have large waists in proportion to their hips have been found to secrete more cortisol when stressed.
The same article claimed that cortisol effects increase our desire (craving) for palatable food intake, increases abdominal fat depots, and circulating insulin levels (increase storage of glucose and fats).
They also believe that the type of food intake and increase insulin prevent your brain from responding to stress (malfunction of negative feedback of the HPA axis).
Such an effect is dependent on food choices, rather than total calories ingested.
We all know that stress is ever-present (omnipresent) in the workplace, palatable food ingestion may represent a means to combat the feeling of stress which is ultimately maladaptive when unresolved.
Evidence-based studies on stress causing weight gain
Per Klatzkin, et al. (2019) linear regression study shown that Perceived life stress (PLS) and cognitive restraint are associated with increased comfort food intake under stress and lead to weight gain and obesity.
Although the mechanisms by which they do so remain unclear.
The author believes that stress and other negative affect are linked with increased reward-driven comfort food intake as a means to ‘feel better’, especially for people with higher PLS and cognitive restraint.
They also demonstrated that stress-induced NA predicted more snack intake for women with higher PLS and that higher PLS was related to heightened emotional relief upon snacking under stress.
Chronic stress is associated with palatable food intake and thus, the development of obesity. This may be due to chronic stress disrupting the regulatory effects of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis on stress-induced eating.
According to a study, the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is controlled by a negative feedback loop that dampens your brain central drive of the axis through the actions of the secreted glucocorticoids.
The study showed that when we are experiencing constant stress, the HPA axis activity is reduced which implies that other indirect peripheral or extra-hypothalami glucocorticoid actions (Warne, 2009).
Another study showed that corticosteroids, the stress hormone stimulate behaviors that are mediated by dopaminergic mesolimbic “reward” pathways, and increase palatable feeding in rats (Dall, et al.,2006).
What are the benefits of controlling your stress level?
- Better sleep
- Being able to lose weight (Perfect body physique)
- Better concentration
- Increase immunity
- Free from anxiety and depression
- Good health and fitness.
Ways to solve excess stress
Get your sleep or rest what I called your “me” time no matter what
Learn and practice relaxation techniques
Uplift your mood through regular exercise
Connect with others
Engage your sense
Learn stress management e.g meditation, Yoga, etc.
For more information on how to utilize these techniques, please check my post on Stress and Your Health in General
Chronic stress is real, has damaging effects on our body, can put a roadblock preventing us from losing the extra weight, and living the quality life you so desire.
The hormone cortisol, which is secreted in response to stress, may lead to increased abdominal fat. This is particularly true in women with higher waist-to-hip ratios.
Let us not pay the high price, but take action Now.
Dallman MF, Pecoraro NC, La Fleur SE, et al. Glucocorticoids, chronic stress, and obesity. Prog Brain Res. 2006;153:75‐105. DOI:10.1016/S0079-6123(06)53004-3
Epel ES, McEwen B, Seeman T, Matthews K, Castellazzo G, Brownell KD, Bell J, Ickovics JR.Psychosom Med. 2000 Sep-Oct;62(5):623-32. DOI: 10.1097/00006842-200009000-00005.PMID: 11020091
Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Melinda Smith, M.A., Robert Segal, M.A., and Lawrence Robinson. Last updated: May 2020.
Klatzkin RR, Dasani R, Warren M, et al. Negative effect is associated with increased stress-eating for women with high perceived life stress. Physiol Behav. 2019;210:112639. DOI:10.1016/j.physbeh.2019.112639
Klatzkin RR, Baldassaro A, Hayden E. The impact of chronic stress on the predictors of acute stress-induced eating in women. Appetite. 2018;123:343‐351. DOI:10.1016/j.appet.2018.01.007
Klatzkin RR, Baldassaro A, Rashid S. Physiological responses to acute stress and the drive to eat: The impact of perceived life stress. Appetite. 2019;133:393‐399. DOI:10.1016/j.appet.2018.11.019
Warne JP. Shaping the stress response: the interplay of palatable food choices, glucocorticoids, insulin, and abdominal obesity. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2009;300(1-2):137‐146. DOI:10.1016/j.mce.2008.09.036