How Stress Affects Your Body – For Better and Worse

how stress affects your body

Stress can be your friend and your foe.

I feel like stress is an unavoidable companion in our world, I doubt it’s just a modern-day malady, but part of the human condition, something that humans have worn the burden of, since inception. The difference is that at this stage of humanity, we have the tools to understand it and deal with it in a more effective way. 

What we know now is that stress is both beneficial and detrimental, a perfect example of agathokakological.

Your Body’s Response To Stress

When we stress, our adrenal glands, which are located at the top of your kidneys, release a hormone called cortisol. Irrelevant of whether it’s a physical or psychological stress, the body activates the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.

Cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone,” has several functions during stress:

  • It increases the availability of glucose in the bloodstream, providing a quick energy source for the body to respond to the stressor.
  • It enhances the body’s metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

  • It suppresses non-essential functions, such as the immune system, digestive system, and reproductive system temporarily, to allocate resources to the immediate stress response.

It also motivates us; cortisol production triggers  adrenaline which heightens alertness and sharpens cognitive functions, enabling a quick response to imminent challenges.

Which is helpful if it’s now and then, but stress becomes an issue when it’s chronic and prolonged.

When Stress Becomes Problematic

  • Prolonged elevation of cortisol can have serious implications for metabolism and weight management. Cortisol influences fat metabolism and distribution, favouring storage in the abdominal area- this is known as visceral fat.
  • Cortisol can also influence our food choices. It can increase our appetite and desire for sweet high-fat foods.
  • Whilst cortisol can have some beneficial anti inflammatory properties – chronic exposure is actually inflammatory and is linked to most diseases.
  • Chronic stress has been associated with changes in the composition and diversity of the gut microbiota – which is responsible for not only digestion but also immunity and mental health.
  • Elevated cortisol can also interfere with bone formation and calcium – increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
ashwagandha stress


Ways To Help Reduce Stress 

There are various ways you can mitigate the effects of stress:

1. Pause – practice mindfulness and relaxation. Taking time to calm the body, practising deep breathing, yoga and meditation can help reduce cortisol levels.

2. Regular exercise is a natural stress management – Exercise releases endorphins (feel-good hormones) and reduces circulating cortisol.

3. Get enough sleep – Making sure you have the right amount of sleep, around 8 hours is integral for cortisol regulation.   Sleep deprivation or insomnia can cause the body to release more cortisol during the day, potentially to stimulate a more alert state.

4. Ashwagandha – This incredible herb has the ability to help reduce cortisol levels, helping us to feel less stressed and anxious.

Looking for more tips or advice? Join our Forest Community Group and join the conversation! 

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