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What Does Stress Look Like in the Body?

October 12th, 2012

How to Recognize Stress in your Body

Every Saturday HSK will again be publishing an article on diet, nutrition and general well-being, written by nutritional consultant and chef, Laura B. Leff. Know why? because a healthy body with a spiritual mind is a blessed soul.

Life is full of curve balls and sometimes those unexpected situations can send us into a stress frenzy. Ever wonder what’s happening biologically while your under all that stress? Maybe your wondering why you can’t get rid of that belly fat no matter how much you watch your diet or exercise. Let’s take a look inside.

During times of stress the body naturally goes through a series of events. During the initial onset of stress, the hypothalamus, inside the brain, sends a signal to the pituitary gland that it needs to produce the hormone, adrenocorticotropic (ACTH).
Then the adrenal gland senses the ACTH in the bloodstream, therefore generating stress hormones, one of which many of us are familiar with, cortisol.

The release of cortisol is a natural response that is good for your body, allowing it to maintain homeostasis. The body know it’s job; the performance lowers sensitivity to pain, boosts immunity, sends a surge of energy and heightens memory function. All of these components help you deal with highly stressful situations, such as in a “fight or flight” position.

Here’s where it can get tricky. Once the stressful situation is over it’s important to return to a balanced, relaxed state. However, in our day lives, we deal with many stressful circumstances, leaving us in a constant stressful state. This prolonged stress leaves us with too much cortisol in the body. The extended presence of cortisol in the bloodstream is known to cause: an increase in abdominal fat, suppressed thyroid function, a decrease in muscle tissue, higher blood pressure, impaired cognitive performance, lowered immunity and blood sugar imbalances.

Back in the day when we needed to hunt for our food, prolonged stress was a signal that the body was threatened (maybe by a fierce animal) or in a state of famine, therefore producing cortisol, which then stored fat as a survival mechanism. This extra fat could be used for quick bursts of energy and/or for enduring long periods of time with no food. Well, last time I checked, the majority of us have a ton of food at arm’s length and we aren’t running from fierce animals on the regular. So the times have changed, but our bodies functionality has not. When you are constantly stressed, your body ends up storing more fat, specifically in the abdominal region. Cortisol also increases ones appetite, specifically craving sugary and fatty foods. Overtime, if stress continues, this cycle can cause weight gain.

Moral of the story, do what you can to de-stress; but whatever you do, don’t stress about de-stressing :). Need some de-stressing tips? Practice yoga, breathing techniques, massage, acupuncture, imagery, reiki, go for a walk, get outside in nature, listen to soothing music or whatever else allows you to just simply feel relaxed and peaceful. Enjoy life!

Cheers & Be Well
Laura Leff, MS, HN

6 Responses to “What Does Stress Look Like in the Body?”

  1. Josh |

    Props! :-). Looking forward to more tips!


  2. Anon |

    Great article Laura.

    I’m healing from PTS that I got from the toxic environment that I experienced at my former job. A few months ago, I began practicing yoga. The camel pose really helps me release my repressed emotions.

    I’ve also found that prayer and talk therapy with a good therapist works.


    Laura Leff Reply:

    Anon, I am very happy to hear that you are doing better. Keep up the good work and thank you for the added tips of prayer and talk therapy…good stuff!! Happy Saturday to you!


  3. Lea |

    Right on point for me. I stress myself out over little things and I know it. I have never been overweight but with this stomach fat I’m leaning that way and I’m stressing out over it big time. I’ve done the walking thing and it helps a little. I’m going to add yoga and see if that helps me to settle down and hopefully lose this belly fat.

    Thank you so much Laura for your weekly health tips. Keep it up……please.


    Laura Leff Reply:

    Lea, thank you for reading and thank you for the recognition! :) Keep taking those baby steps and you will get where you need to be! All the best!!


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