Stress can be defined as a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stresses can be external (from the environment, psychological, or social situations) or internal (illness, or from a medical procedure). It is commonly argued that stress management is the most important intervention to focus on for the simple reason that regardless of what other positive habits you adopt, you will still be exposed to chronic disease due to the damaging effects of consistent stress. (1)
The body's defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the fight-or-flight reaction or the stress response. This happens over three biological steps:
1) Reaction Stage: your adrenal gland releases cortisol (a stress hormone), and you receive a boost of cortisol and adrenaline, which increases energy.
2) Resistance Stage: After the initial shock and response the body begins to repair itself. The body begins to lower the cortisol release and heart rate. It is important to reduce the stress and return to normal levels before the body prolongs the reaction stage and adopts to a new normal of a higher stress state, which can eventually lead to hormone imbalances and exhaustion.
3) Exhaustion Stage: If stress is not managed and the body remains in fight or flight for prolonged periods of time it can drain your physical, mental and emotional resources leading to fatigue, depression and anxiety.
There is an emerging body of evidence around the correlation of psychological stress and weight gain. (2) This may be due in part to the link between chronic stress and binge eating, negative eating patterns and food addiction. (3)
Acute psychological stress can increase glucose concentrations (4). There is considerable interest in targeting Beta cell regeneration as an effective approach to replenish insulin. Recent insights have shown a strong correlation between Beta cell’s and oxidative stress levels. (5)
HDL decreased and LDL levels increased in a population of students that were exposed to three months of exam stress (7)
The cumulative effect of daily stressors promotes elevations in inflammatory markers over time as shown in a study on caregivers working on a daily basis with dementia patients. (6)
GGT is known as a key marker for oxidative stress. (8) Oxidative stress occurs when the body is unable to counteract the damaging effects of free oxygen radicals in the system. It is a crucial factor in the development of chronic disease. Consistent anticipatory stress arousal may be accelerating the accumulation of oxidative stress damage and biological aging. (9)
Managing your stress levels can have a big impact on our long term risk factor for many illnesses. Practicing yoga or other restorative aerobic training can have a positive effect on your stress levels. In addition, trying to maintain a regular, uninterrupted, sleep cycle can have a positive effect on stress. Finally, adopting a mindfulness practice like meditation can have a significant impact on your stress levels.
5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5560096/ https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2011-20739-001