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How Stress Is Affecting Your Body

Stress! No doubt you’ve heard that word so many times before, but do you really know what it is and how it affects the body?

By Justine Meges, Personal Trainer at Hawthorn

Picture this; you are in your car stuck in traffic and all you can do is think about the list of things you need to do before the end of the day as you watch the time go by. You start to get agitated and feel more tense, this is where the part of your brain that regulates your emotions, the hypothalamus, sends signals to create the stress hormones known as cortisol and adrenalin.

What we know is that small amounts of short-term stress can be beneficial, however chronic long-term stress can have negative impacts on the body, so the question is; what’s stressing you and how are you managing it?

Let’s look a little bit deeper.

  • Respiratory & Cardiovascular System. The heart pumps faster which induces constriction of vessels to divert the blood to muscles and increases blood pressure. In the short term this can help with overall performance and improved fitness, but in the long-term the heart could be working too hard for too long, which could have consequences if not managed appropriately.
  • Digestive System. Stress triggers the liver to release cortisol in the bloodstream giving a boost of energy; however too much cortisol may alter the body’s sensitivity to insulin putting people at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Stress can cause a range of issues to our gut and digestive system. Signs of chronic stress may show up as a suppressed appetite, diarrhea, nausea, stomachache and more.
  • Muscular System. When stressed, our muscles tense to protect the body, however chronic stress means our muscles cannot relax which can lead to stiffness, and more commonly headaches, back and shoulder pain.
  • Sexual & Reproductive System. Long term stress can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle, causing irregular heavier or and painful periods. It can also magnify the physical symptoms of menopause. For men, small amounts of stress can increase the production of testosterone; However, chronic long-term stress may lower the testosterone levels, resulting on interfering with the production of sperm and strongly reducing libido.
  • Immune System. Stress stimulates our immune system which may be beneficial for immediate situations such as healing wounds or avoiding infections. But chronic stress overtime can weaken the immune system and consequently, viral illnesses like cold or flu are easier to get and may take more time to recover.

It’s important to know that the body’s stress response is completely natural and in small amounts can be beneficial. However long-term stress can be a problem and often will need to be addressed. So how do you manage and minimize stress?

  • Physical Activity/Exercise. Helps to improve mood, physical and mental well-being. Helps the body and mind to be and feel more resilient. 
  • Healthy Diet.  Minimizing proceed food and alcohol helps the body to feel its best. Alcohol when consumed close to bed can negatively impact the quality of sleep and leave you feeling exhausted. Eating more whole foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, fish, nuts and seeds ensure the body has all the nutrients and improves your resilience to stress.
  • Minimize Phone & Screen Time. It can be hard to step away from devices, they have become such an important part of our everyday life. However, spending too much time in front of a screen can affect negatively our sleep, increase stress level and therefore influence our well-being.
  • Practice Self-Care & Mindfulness.  Self-care doesn’t have to be complicated or sophisticate, being in the moment present while walking, taking a bath, and more have been reported to improve our quality of life.
  • Reduce Caffeine Intake. There is absolutely nothing wrong with your cup of coffee, so don’t worry we’re not telling you to stop drinking your morning brew. However, it’s important to know that Caffeine stimulates our central nervous system, so consuming too much may affect sleep quality and increase feelings of anxiety. So it is important to know your own tolerance.

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