Effects of Stress on the Body
Article written by Daniel Max, Holistic Health Counselor, Yoga Instructor, Shiatsu Practitioner, owner of Sense of Self
Stress is a natural body mechanism for survival. The classic scientific definition of stress is “a real or imagined threat and the body’s response to it.” Hence, each time we experience stress, the brain interprets it to the body as a threat to your survival.
In primal days, stress (fight or flight) was the body’s reaction to a potentially life threatening experience, such as a lurking predator. In response to stress, the body shuts down the digestive system in order to supply more energy towards survival mechanisms.
Most of us function on low-levels of stress all day every day. While some stresses can help motivate us to get things done on time, much of our stress is created by “stressing ourselves out” in our own heads. The quality of our thoughts affects the stress levels in the body.
Low-level stress reduces your ability to burn calories and can minimize the flow of blood to the digestive tract by up to four times.
Stress levels will rise from anxiety, judgment or attack mode against self or others. Fighting people, lack of forgiveness, and unresolved past experiences will all raise our stress levels. Any thoughts or words that degrade self and others will cause stress. A simple thought such as “I’m five lbs over weight and that sucks” will elevate your stress levels and tell your body not to digest or assimilate.
The same switch in your brain that turns on the fight or flight stress mode will simultaneously turn off digestion.
The stress response will eventually show up as weight issues, immune issues, digestion concerns, blood sugar levels, heart disease and cholesterol levels.
Dieting and Stress
Any strategy or remedy that creates stress, any diet or exercise that is driven by stress or asks you to hate yourself is harmful and counter to healing.
When the body is under stress it is less connected to its gut wisdom, the neural information regarding digestion. We eat when anxious or stressed, a time when the appetite is most deregulated. If we overeat it is not because we have will power problems, but rather the brain has not registered “I’m full, nourished and satiated”. When we are relaxed, the brain is fully engaged in the digestive process and is making choices from body wisdom. When we relax, the digestive system is at its best.
When the body has an excess of stress hormones, cortisol and insulin, it slows down calorie burning, sustains fat and refrains from building muscle in order to maintain energy. This is an evolutionary survival response to primal times of famine. This is the main reason why people often gain weight on diets. If the body doesn’t get the calories it needs, it believes there is a famine and goes into survival mode.
Eating less, exercising more, pushing yourself, hating yourself and beating yourself up does not work. The stress response can override any of the wonderful healing dietary strategies that we choose.
We must integrate tools to relax in all the key realms of our life so the body can be in a natural state of healing. Then all the healthful nutritional strategies will really take hold.
How you eat is as important as what you eat. Take 5- 10 deep breaths before and after each meal to signal the body that you are eating in a relaxed environment. Take a moment to notice if the mouth has started to salivate, and you will know that your digestive juices have started to flow!
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