Let’s just start by saying that stress, to some degree, is necessary and can even be beneficial. It can increase your productivity and drive, and even save your life when you need a quick response during an accident or other life-threatening situation. However, these quick bursts of stress are not what we’re covering today, we’re talking about long-term chronic stress.
Stress can come from work, relationships, kids, etc, and even use of caffeine and pre-workout can add to the body’s stress levels. Whilst nowadays the stressors that we usually encounter are more psychological than physiological (we’re not usually being hunted down by larger land animals..) they can still alter the performance of your body. The effects that cortisol (the stress hormone) has on the human body are primarily metabolic, but can also impact immune response, ion transport and memory. Long-term constant cortisol exposure from chronic stress can impair cognitive function, decrease functionality of the thyroid gland and associated hormones, and in turn increase abdominal fat. High levels of cortisol have also been studied to prolong wound healing.
The stress that occurs in the human body is triggered by change and affected by how your body responds to that change. Regardless of the situation you are in, chemicals will send a signal to your brain which releases cortisol. If the situation is fine, no worries. If this continues to keep happening extremely regularly, or if it is ongoing, the cortisol returns and blocks other neurotransmitters, mainly noradrenaline (the main neurotransmitter of the sympathetic nervous system) and serotonin (the happiness hormone), this can create an ongoing cycle of stress. Anxiety, insomnia and depression can be caused by chronic cortisol response such as this.
The link between having too much cortisol and weight gain is that usually if we’re starting to get a bit hungry between meals, our body will release cortisol because our blood sugar has dropped. To help us get by cortisol activates amino acids, glucose and fats to maintain our blood sugar level, and the insulin that comes along with it increases glucose absorption in the cells. So cortisol is trying to be a good guy, but he just gets carried away sometimes, such as in the case of prolonged, or long-term stress. When both the cortisol and insulin levels remain elevated in the body the extra glucose starts to become stored as fat, usually around the abdominal area.
So what can you do to stop stressing so much? I’ve put a video on my channel of 10 easy and inexpensive things to do regularly to ensure that you’re keeping your cortisol levels in check. By reducing the constant stress you can help stop the bad side-effects that come along with adrenal imbalance.
Rosmond, R, Dallman, M, and Bjorntorp, P 2009. Stress-related cortisol secretion in men: Relationships with abdominal obesity and endocrine, metabolic and hemodynamic abnormalities. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Vol. 83, No. 6.
Dickerson, S, and Kemeny, M 2004. Acute stressors and cortisol responses: A theoretical integration and synthesis of laboratory research. Psychological Bulletin. Vol. 130, No. 3, pp. 355-391.
Epel, E, Lapidus, R, McEwan, B, and Brownell, K 2001. Stress may add bite to appetite in women: A laboratory study of stress-induced cortisol and eating behaviour. Psychoneuroendocrinology. Vol. 26, pp. 37-49.