Stress can be a big part of our everyday lives. Common causes of stress can stem from things like work deadlines, financial issues, sleep deprivation family problems or poor health. Stress can also be quite misunderstood, and if unchecked can be a burden to both our physical and mental wellbeing. Stress isn’t all bad though, the hormonal response to certain situations is also a vital and necessary part of our brain function which is designed to keep us alive in the event of imminent danger.
Fight or flight?
You may have heard of the fight or flight response? This is what happens when we are placed in immediate danger, we can either take flight or fight the danger or threat that intends to harm us. This fight or flight response is part of a stress response that our body uses as a defence mechanism.
How can a stress response keep us alive?
Throughout evolution imminent dangers would have come in many forms. Dangers such as a natural disaster, famine, the threat of war or from an invading tribe. This stress response back then would have raised cortisol levels which would have caused a release of glucose from the liver to supply our skeletal muscles, our brain, heart and lungs with the necessary energy the organs need to ‘Fight or Flight’ out of harm’s way. This response enabled our ancestors to protect themselves and their tribes.
How does stress manifest in today’s day and age?
Fortunately, the dangers that caused these responses throughout human evolution are in today’s day and age quite a rare occurrence. However, even as modern day human beings our prehistoric brains still perceive the stressors of a modern-day world as mortal threats, and therefore our hormones respond accordingly.
So, if we are eliciting a largely unnecessary stress response as a result of our normal everyday life, this can have detrimental effects to our health both in the short and long-term. The release of glucose from the liver as a result of increased cortisol levels, can simply happen from unwanted events such as receiving an unwanted bill or an uncomfortable discussion with a colleague. This glucose may not be needed to keep us “from imminent danger” however our body now craves high caloric or comfort foods that we don’t necessarily need!
Connecting the dots now?
Other ways that stress can cause us to gain weight:
- Craving foods high in sugar and sodium
- Disrupted sleep patterns, which can cause the release of the hormone ghrelin triggering our brain into thinking we need to eat.
3 tips for controlling stress
- A 20-minute daily practice of yoga, stretching, deep breathing or meditation. This can help with reducing stress in the moment as well as helping us tolerate stressful situations better.
- Get adequate sleep 7-8 hours per night. Sleeping allows the body to reset our hormones
- Regular exercise: Exercise for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. This has been shown to help reduce stress levels.
In conclusion stress can cause weight gain by disrupting our hormone levels causing poor eating habits as well as a lack of energy causing physical inactivity. Stress responses can be a vicious cycle that need to be addressed adequately to provide us with both optimal physical and mental health.
Heath Jones is the founder of Active & Ageless and has over 20 years’ experience in the Health & Wellness space.
He holds the following qualifications:
Bachelor of Nursing
Postgraduate in Exercise Science
Diploma of OHS
Cert 3 & 4 Fitness
Cert 4 Training & Assessment
Older Adults trainer