Life seems to get more and more stressful every day.

What happens in the body when you experience a stressful situation?

When people have a particularly stressful time in their life, the body goes into a fight or flight mode causing a release of adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline causes the blood pressure to rise, heart rate to go up and increases a person’s responsiveness to the environment. The cortisol levels also go up. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone for the body which increases your glucose metabolism, and decreases the systems in the body that are not essential like the digestive tract, reproductive organs and the immune system. It also alters the brain and the mood.

What do these high levels of adrenaline and cortisol do to the body over long periods of time?

Normally a person’s fight or flight mechanism will stop when the stress resolved. When stress is prolonged, it can wreak havoc on your body. Stress will affect every part of the body.

Stress can lead to increases in blood pressure, poor diet choices increasing cholesterol and diabetes risk and not working out. All of these things increase your risk for heart attacks and strokes. People can be more prone to gaining weight, drinking alcohol heavily and abusing drugs. They can also have issues with memory and concentration. High levels of stress can even be associated with hair loss and problems with fertility.

How does cortisol contribute to weight gain?

Cortisol increases your insulin production which drops your glucose levels making people crave sugary, high fat and high carbohydrate foods. This can lead to weight gain as can consuming alcohol, not working out, and of course not sleeping well, which can also raise your cortisol levels.

What can people do to help battle stress?

  • Identify what is the cause of your stress. Some things can be changed while others may be more difficult.
  • Seek counseling to help better manage stress.
  • Find 30-60 minutes a day to care for yourself. Whether that is working out or rediscovering a new hobby, take the time.
  • Meditation has been associated with a decrease in cardiovascular risk. No specific type of time interval. Just do what feels best and can be fit into the course of the day.
  • Reach out to friends and family as a support system. Ask for help!
  • Sleep at least 6-8 hours a day.
  • Avoid high-carb and high-sugar "comfort foods" and avoid alcohol and drugs. Short-term, this may help you feel better, but over the long-term can lead to many more problems.

Stress is often times not within our own control. Different people experience and react to stress differently. It is so important to manage stress and to do this before it starts to affect your health.