It’s no secret that environmental and lifestyle factors like diet and exercise can have a huge impact on your health, but one of the most significant – and frequently overlooked – factors that can affect our health is stress.
Many people struggle with managing stress on a daily basis – whether you have a very demanding job, have to keep a handle on several kids, or are one of millions of people worldwide who live with an anxiety disorder(1).
While a small amount of stress – like the kind you get from a vigorous workout – can be good for the body, chronic stress can have a number of negative impacts on your health, putting you at increased risk for obesity and diabetes, among other medical conditions.
Looking At The Connection Between Stress And Obesity
When a person lives with chronic stress, it can disrupt the natural rhythm of their body. This isn’t just a vague feeling of unease: chemicals like cortisol, a hormone which is normally high in the mornings when you wake up and tapers off gradually throughout the day so that you’re tired when it’s time for bed in the evening, can go out of control.
Makes You Want To Snack on Junk Food
The effects of increased and disrupted levels of cortisol are many, and can be serious cause for concern. It can raise your blood pressure levels(2), and make you feel hungrier more frequently, causing you to crave sugary and fatty snacks(3).
Slows Down Your Metabolism
It also reduces your ability to burn calories(4), which, combined with increased feelings of hunger, is a perfect recipe for dramatic weight gain. At the same time, it can make your cells less sensitive to insulin, putting you at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes(5).
The Human Body Isn’t Built to Deal With Chronic Stress
Short-term, acute stress is generally no problem – it’s why we have such a well-developed “fight or flight” impulse. Some people have even noticed that they have quicker reflexes and reaction times in emergency situations – this is another example of how we’re built to react to immediate, short-term stress.
But the chronic stress associated with so many contemporary lifestyles is relatively new to the human body. We’re just not built to handle it very well – unless we take steps to manage our stress levels daily, it can have serious ramifications for our health.
Managing Chronic Stress
When we talk about managing chronic stress, many things may come to mind: yoga, mindfulness exercises, even the ability to cut loose and enjoy a cocktail once in a while!
But it’s important to get practical and look at long-term causes of chronic stress as well. Things like lack of sleep and unhealthy eating habits are all too common today, and can be major causes of chronic stress.
Lack of sleep in particular can lead to overeating, according to studies(6). Meanwhile, fad and “yo-yo” dieting trends can also, perhaps perversely, make it hard for people to lose weight and keep it off in a health-conscious way, along with significantly increasing stress levels(7).
In order to manage the day to day stress of your modern life, getting enough good quality sleep and eating healthy, balanced meals are more important than ever.