From work deadlines to money woes, there’s a lot to be stressed about in daily life. Your body can handle stress in small doses, but too much stress can wreak havoc on your health. Keep reading to find out how stress affects your metabolism.

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s way of reacting to a perceived threat. When your body thinks it’s under attack, it releases hormones that help you respond to a survival situation. This is called the ‘fight-or-flight’ response.

How does stress affect metabolism?

When discussing the impact stress has on our metabolic function, we must first introduce two key stress hormones: cortisol and epinephrine (also known as adrenaline). Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system and stimulation of these two hormones, which increase the availability of blood flow and glucose.

Glucose, broken down from carbohydrates, provides a fast source of energy for the muscles in case you need to fight or run away. The stress response was developed for our caveman ancestors, so although we may not need to flee from a lion anymore our bodies don’t necessarily know that.

Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels will return to normal. However, when we experience long-term or ‘chronic stress’ the body stays in the fight-or-flight state. This can lead to excess glucose being produced, which your body stores as fat.

Can stress cause weight gain?

While acute stress is commonly associated with appetite suppression and weight loss, chronic stress is a different story. Prolonged exposure to cortisol has been shown to increase appetite and cravings for high-calorie foods. Evidence also suggests chronic stress leads to behavioral changes that can cause weight gain. For example, less physical activity, comfort or ‘stress eating’ and increased alcohol intake.

How to reduce stress?

There are a number of simple things you can do to help lower your stress levels. Here we round-up five of the most effective methods.

  1. Exercise

Regular exercise helps to regulate stress and improves overall mood by releasing endorphins also known as ‘feel-good’ chemicals. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day like a brisk walk or yoga.

  1. Deep breathing

Close your eyes and take a few breaths to clear and calm your mind. Deep breathing taps into the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of relaxation.

  1. Self-care

Self-care is an important tool for combating stress and improving your overall wellbeing. Take some time for yourself by having a bath and lighting some aromatherapy candles.

  1. Eat well

Maintaining a healthy diet is a great way to relieve stress. Drink plenty of water, add more fruit and vegetables to your diet and avoid processed foods. Tip: inspiration for meals can be found in the daily plan on the Lumen app.

  1. Get enough sleep

You’ll be able to deal with stress better when you’re well-rested, so try to get between 7 and 9 hours sleep per night.

References

  • Stress hormones: physiological stress and regulation of metabolism, Ioannis Kyrou and Constantine Tsigos
  • The impact of chronic stress on energy metabolism, Michael A. van der Kooij
  • Impact of stress on metabolism and energy balance, Cristina Rabasa and Suzanne L Dickson
  • Stress and metabolism, Seematter G, Binnert C, Tappy L.
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