Stress and Your Body
Bernadette Woolcock, Acupuncturist & Nutritionist
‘If stress burned calories, I’d be a supermodel’ – Anonymous
Stress was very important in prehistoric times where a stressor, such as an approaching sabretooth tiger, triggered a number of bodily responses allowing our ancestors to stay and fight, or run away. This is known as the fight-or-flight response and enabled our ancestors to survive.
The way our body reacts to stress hasn’t changed from prehistoric times. The only problem is our stressors look a little different.
Imagine seeing the sink about to overflow because you left the tap on. In the short term, stress is really important. The brain triggers the body to send out stress hormones called adrenaline and cortisol. This response allows you to run into the kitchen and turn off the tap, so the kitchen doesn’t flood. However, an overflowing sink isn’t a life or death situation, but our body responds just as it did in prehistoric times, triggering the fight-or-flight response.
The problem is we have a lot of stress in our lives. From trying for work-life balance, to running the kids around, to work stress and money issues. And our bodies response to anything it perceives as a stress is the same. The result is our body is in a state of chronic stress. It never has any down time to heal and is not able to get back in to balance.
Chronic stress can impact our health in a number of ways:
- Stress causes the nervous system to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. This is where it all begins! Over time, the chronic release of stress hormones causes several health issues.
- Chronic stress can lead to problems with menstruation such as PMS, painful periods, irregular cycles and no periods at all. It can also cause fertility issues in men and women, making it more difficult to fall pregnant.
- Chronic stress causes the muscles to tense up, leading to neck, shoulder and back pain. It can also cause headaches and migraines, as well as issues with jaw clenching and teeth grinding.
- Stress causes breathing to speed up and breaths to be shallower. Over time, this can lead to feeling anxious. In certain cases, chronic stress can increase the incidence of asthma attacks in sufferers.
- Stress increases the heart rate and blood pressure. In the long-term, this can increase the risk of heart problems and stroke.
- Stress causes digestion to slow down. If stress becomes chronic, it can lead to pain, bloating and discomfort. It can also lead to a decrease or increase in appetite often leading to poorer food choices.
- Chronic stress can lead to a weakened immune system, leaving you more prone to infections such as colds and flus.
- Chronic Stress can cause anxiety which is the precursor to depression.
- Chronic Stress can contribute to insomnia due to the stress hormone cortisol being constantly elevated. Cortisol should be high just before waking in the morning so that you can wake up and get going, and slowly decrease over the day so that it is at its lowest just before you fall asleep.
If you think that stress could be contributing to your health problems, please call Essence of Health on 8296 4333 to make an appointment.
Pietrangelo, A, Watson, S. 2020. Effects of Stress on Your Body, online accessed 10 February 2020
American psychological Association, 2020, Stress Effects on the body, online accessed 10 February 2020