How Stress Impacts Your Well-Being
You are a superwoman.
You’ve got your career, maybe a side hustle, and you’re raising a couple of kids, taking care of aging parents, managing social calendars and after school lessons. And you still manage to get a healthy(ish) dinner on the table most nights of the week.
You’re doing it all and then some. But you’re also stressed out and running on empty.
Stress is often thought of as an external thing or experience, but it’s actually the natural response your body has when it senses that you may be in danger. Unfortunately your body doesn’t know the difference between the stress that our hunting and gathering ancestors experienced and the stress of modern life. It’s not limited to emotional or mental stress, either – prolonged, intense exercise and a poor diet also trigger your stress response.
So when you have a looming deadline or a stack of unpaid bills piling up, it’s the same fight-or-flight response that kicks in then if you were being chased by a lion. Your heart rate goes up, your bloodstream is flooded with glucose to give you a shot of energy, blood is shunted away from your major organs and digestion comes to a screeching halt.
While this sounds scary, your body’s stress response isn’t damaging – after all, outrunning lions is what kept our ancestors alive and evolving. However, living in a constant state of stress without giving your body a chance to reset that can have detrimental health effects. And it’s not just about increasing your risk for diseases that are commonly linked with stress such as heart disease and diabetes; there are a number of ways that chronic stress can damage your health.
Stress messes with your digestion
When you’re about to be someone else’s dinner, digesting yours is no longer a priority for your body. Chronic stress shuts down your digestive system, which can leave you with unpleasant symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating or gas, and may even contribute to nutritional deficiencies. Your body relies on the nutrients in the food that you eat to fuel every single cell in your body and if you’re not digesting your food properly then your body doesn’t have the building blocks it needs to function, paving the way to disease.
Stress suppresses your immunity
Chronic stress suppresses your immune system, which is probably why you seem to catch every damn bug your kid brings home from daycare. Cortisol, the main hormone involved in your body’s stress response, suppresses the immune system putting you at risk for frequent colds and flus. No amount of ColdFX will help you outsmart a cold when you’re always operating in fight-or-flight mode.
Stress can contribute to PMS and infertility
Hormones deliver messages and instructions between cells in your body, coordinated by the endocrine system in a delicate balance. When your body is busy producing the hormones to activate your stress response it can inhibit the release of sex hormones – the hormones your body needs for menstrual cycle function, ovulation and even sex drive – throwing this balance out of whack and the result can lead to PMS, painful periods, PCOS or infertility.
Stress can override your healthy eating efforts
If I learned anything in nutrition school it’s that eating a healthy diet actually doesn’t mean much if you’re chronically stressed. Not only will you not digest the nutrients in your food as I mentioned above, but new research suggests that your body experiences the same inflammatory response when you eat a healthy meal on a day that you are stressed then you would if you ate an unhealthy meal. That’s not a free pass to hit the drive through tonight, but more reason to manage your stress!
So what’s a superwoman to do? Getting rid of all of the stress in your life isn’t the answer, but consciously managing the stress in our lives and taking time out to decompress is. Your health and wellness will thank you.
Amanda Laird is a holistic nutritionist helping women use real food to get their whacked out hormones back on track.