Notably, stress affects all bodily functions from the central nervous system, respiratory system, digestive and reproductive system.
By Dr Muffazal Lakdawala
Stress can be physical, psychological or emotional that causes bodily or mental tension. Keep in mind that factors that cause stress are called stressors. Stressors can be external like environmental, or internal like an illness. Stress not only stems from negative but also from positive situations for e.g. a promotion or childbirth.
Notably, stress affects all bodily functions from the central nervous system, respiratory system, digestive and reproductive system. This is a result of catecholamines – Epinephrine/adrenaline, Norepinephrine, and hormones such as cortisol.
How stress affects your body
The activation of these hormones causes a change in bodily functions as they prepare the body for fight or flight response, as rapid heart rate, constriction of blood vessels, increase perspiration, slowing down of the digestion process, increase in blood sugar levels, increase insulin production and excessive fat accumulation.
So how does all this translate into our everyday life?
Stress at the workplace: A serious challenge for professionals
Stress in a workplace or among corporates generally arises from external negative situations like:
- meeting deadlines
- hitting targets
- rise, and fall of the market
- managing resources
- long working hours and
- sleep deprivation
The link between Chronic Stress and Junk Eating
Chronic stress results in the production of cortisol – Commonly known as the stress hormone. Cortisol is a glucocorticoid that causes a redistribution of fat cells to the abdominal area and also causes an increase in appetite and a preference for energy-dense foods – foods that have high caloric value but little or no nutritional value – simply known as junk food.
This phenomenon is called stress eating or emotional eating, whereas one does not eat in response to hunger but rather to comfort oneself as food doesn’t fight back and can be easily abused. So, if you see yourself reaching out for that slice of cake in the middle of the night or that cookie or deep-fried samosa in the middle of the day it’s most likely your hormones are creating havoc and it’s your body’s way of preparing you for a fight or flight response.
All of this results in increased waist circumference and excessive weight gain. Abdominal obesity or visceral obesity has been directly linked glucose intolerance, insulin resistance all precursors of type 2 diabetes as the visceral fat accumulates on organs such as the liver and pancreas.
How stress and diabetes are interrelated
Several studies have also shown a link between stress and the onset of diabetes and or the exacerbation of the disease. This is again linked back to the release of the hormone cortisol, which results in increased blood sugar levels.
In those that are already suffering from diabetes as a result of lack of insulin or irregularities in insulin production, this results in glucose not being metabolised properly resulting in fluctuations of blood sugar levels. These chronic fluctuations of blood sugars result in the long-term complications of diabetes such as cardiovascular disease, retinopathy, and kidney damage.
Research also suggests that stress also results in a deterioration of one’s ability to self-manage diabetes such as home glucose monitoring, regular investigations, following a meal plan and administration of insulin or taking medications, which can further exacerbate the severity of the disease.
How to manage stress?
A brisk walk or a swim, but avoid doing a high-intensity activity during an already stressful phase, as an exercise in itself is a stressful activity for the body which can further raise cortisol levels.
Take a break
Try and break down the problem to be able to effectively manage the situation
Meditation and or yoga, tai – chi, deep breathing helps to relax the mind and also steer away from stress eating. Music therapy, indulging hobbies such as reading or gardening has been known to help lower stress levels. Remember, the emotional and moral support of family and or friends is important too, to be able to communicate one’s emotions
The author is Founder & Chief Surgeon at Digestive Health Institute. Views expressed are the author’s own.