What Does Stress Do to My Body?
At NaturoMedica, many of our patients report that they are experiencing stress. Stress can be caused by an assault on the body from infection or injury or from a variety of social and psychological circumstances. However, when patients report stress they are often referring to a mental and/or an emotional conflict in their life. Physical and emotional stress can initiate a “fight or flight” response in the body and triggers complex reactions in our nervous and hormonal systems. This cascade of signaling is the reason that emotional stress can lead to many physical symptoms and impact your health in a variety of ways including nagging headaches, digestive issues, or decreasing your productivity at work.
Impacts of stress on the body
Brain: A steady flow of cortisol from chronic stress can decrease your short-term memory and deplete your serotonin levels leaving you feeling depressed and anxious. It can also interfere with your natural circadian rhythm and cause difficulties with falling asleep and staying asleep. This lack of restorative sleep, in turn, leads to more problems with memory and mood.
Digestive: Stress impacts the enteric nervous system of the GI tract and slows the natural peristaltic movement as well as decreasing the secretion of digestive enzymes. This can lead to chronic gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and nutritional deficiencies. Foods that are poorly digested travel to our colon and feed our gut bacteria. Feeding our bacteria partially undigested food can cause an imbalance of the good and bad bacteria in the gut. This imbalance in bacteria can cause local GI inflammation and may also have systemic negative effects on our mood and immune system.
Heart: During moments of stress and high anxiety, the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine can cause arterial narrowing and increase heart rate. Over time, this can lead to high blood pressure and increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Weight management: Cortisol is a stress hormone that when in excess can lead to overeating those foods rich in sugar, fat and salt. Cortisol also directs weight gain specifically around the abdomen and organs like the liver. This type of weight gain is very unhealthy and is associated with an increase in cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Muscles: Stress causes surges of adrenaline from the sympathetic nervous system, also known as our fight or flight response. Adrenaline alerts the muscles to tense up and get ready for attack. This can lead to spasms in the neck and back and cause chronic pain. Some people will manifest stress by grinding their teeth and clenching their jaw causing tension in the muscles of the face and leads to chronic tension headaches.
Clearly, stress can have a large impact on your health and is often an underlying reason that so many people develop chronic health conditions. At NaturoMedica, we can measure your level of stress hormones throughout a day with a specialized saliva test. Our Naturopathic physicians use therapies that address emotional stress and the negative effect it may have on the body. Nutritional and herbal therapies can be effective tools when addressing the impacts of stress on the body. While a certain amount of daily stress is inevitable, we look forward to helping you establish healthy coping strategies and minimize the systemic influences of stress on your body.