How Your Stress is Eating You

‘It’s probably just my anxiety’ or ‘I am probably just at that time of the month’ or ‘I’ll deal with it later’ are some of the things we tell ourselves anytime the stress from everyday life begins to get to us. We as a species generally tend to undermine our mental health or place it low on our list of priorities until it reaches a breaking point. We tend to believe that what we are feeling is unreal or simply just in our head/made-up. This is especially true for conditions like stress, anxiety, and depression. But the fact of the matter is that no matter how much we try to put on a brave face or repress our feelings, it will eventually break to the surface if left untreated.

“Stress is the body’s response and reaction to any scenario be it real or made up, emotional, psychological or physical.”

Stress can produce an array of symptoms in the body. These symptoms usually have a pattern to them. However, if left untreated for prolonged periods they can manifest as health conditions. Generally, stress can be further classified into 3 different types:

  • Acute stress
  • Chronic stress
  • Episodes of stress (a.k.a. episodic stress)

Stressors

Stressors are any of the factors that trigger the onset of characteristic symptoms. These factors vary for different people. They can be emotional, economic, environmental, social and/or related to family and loved ones. Stressors can be factual or unrealistic scenarios. Sometimes we make up random scenarios in our heads that have not happened or play out a situation in anticipation of it occurring in the future. We may also recycle past incidents that brought us stress before, which can cause symptoms of stress to bubble up again as we think about it.

Psychological Effects of Stress and Anxiety On the Body

2019 and 2020 were an emotional roller coaster for almost everyone. COVID-19 turned our world upside down from every angle. Mental health took a serious hit for many of us when this global pandemic began and has been impacting our lives as we continue to navigate through the unknown future. Stress and anxiety are on the rise as COVID cases continue to multiply. But what happens when we let the stress win?

Following are some of the effects of stress on emotional health:

  • Onset and worsening of obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Anxiety attack and episodes
  • Inability to concentrate on work/daily life tasks
  • Insomnia
  • Lethargy
  • Poor cognitive performances
  • Feeling despondent and lonely
  • Inability to communicate and interact with loved ones

Physical Effects of Stress On the Body

Imagine you have a major, career altering presentation coming up at work. You have slaved and prepared for this day forever and it is finally here! But the emotional and physical stress from anticipation and hard work is now beginning to get to you and your nerves start making you feel unsure of yourself. Suddenly you see a horrible pimple breaking out on your forehead. You could swear it was not there the night before. Now the anxiety from the work presentation builds onto the anxiety of this pimple and the pressure to look good.

This example is just one of the many physical effects that chronic or acute stress can produce on our bodies. The impact of being overly anxious can be severe and long-lasting. The severity of physical effects may vary from person to person, however some of the most common effects are as follows:

Digestive Disturbances

These include condition like constipation, diarrhea, nausea, vomits, bloating, and one of the most common is stomach ulcers. Stress induced ulcers can be diagnosed medically by identifying the presence of H. pylori bacteria in the body.

Overeating/Unhealthy Eating Choices

Maybe you have heard the saying “stress eating”. Stress can cause us to seek out unhealthy pleasure foods to help us feel better. This can lead to unhealthy eating choices, binge eating disorders, or overeating which can cause further adverse health problems. Obesity and heart disease are the leading causes of mortality and death rates in the United States and worldwide. Stress eating can further exacerbate other stress related physical and psychological effects on the body outlined in this article.

Hypertension and Cardiac Diseases

Elevated blood pressure a.k.a. hypertension is extremely common these days. Especially among young adults. If left untreated for a long period of time it can turn into severe heart conditions such as arrhythmias, heart attack etc.

Even if the condition does not deteriorate into a heart attack, there is still an increased risk of angina and chest tightness.

Unexpected Onset of Kidney Disease

Prolonged and undiagnosed hypertension in patients with chronic stress and anxiety can potentially lead to kidney diseases. In some cases, the condition may lead to kidney failure. The blood supply obstruction as a result of high blood pressure can profoundly damage the health of nephrons in the kidney. Therefore hypertension is referred to as a silent killer.

So Long Healthy, Clear Skin

Dermatologists worldwide attribute stress as one of the major causes for cystic acne. In addition, anxiety attacks and chronic stress can flare up other skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, rash and itch.

The cause for this extremely unwanted side effect is the irregular release of stress hormones i.e. cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine. Out of these three, the cortisol surge is the main culprit. This happens because of inappropriate release of cortisol mechanisms that causes the pores to become clogged. The sebum concentration also increases disproportionately due to chronic stress. The result is a severe flare up of acne and other skin conditions.

Where Did My Sleep Go!?!

Insomnia or lack of sleep is one of the leading complaints of effects resulting from being overly stressed for a long period of time. Some may experience a less severe hinderance to their sleep-wake cycle in the initial stages of stress. But over time, it can worsen to sub-acute/acute insomnia. The reason for the loss of sleep is over activation of the hypothalamus-pituitary axis (HPA) under high periods of stress. This stimulation causes hormones to be released that disrupt the sleep pattern partially or entirely. Cortisol is one of the main hormones in this respect too. Thyroid hormone, testosterone and growth hormone have also been identified to cause sleep disorders in abnormal quantities.

Just Not in The Mood for It (Loss of Sex Drive)

Loss of sexual arousal, libido, erection in men etc. are very real, immediate and long-term reactions of the body to frequent stress and anxiety triggers. This happens when blood vessels supplying sexual organs become constricted and narrow under stress periods. This reduced blood supply can eventually lead to loss of libido.

Addiction to Caffeine, Tobacco, and Drugs

People living with chronic anxiety and stress try to relieve their symptoms by drinking more coffee. The inclination towards smoking and alcohol can also become more profound in such cases. Related health & mental issues associated with these addictions are extensively dangerous.

How to Fight Stress and Anxiety With Natural Ingredients

We have been blessed with exceptional natural ingredients to help combat almost any disease condition. These ingredients range from herbs and spices to plants and animal sources. Some leading ingredients to combat stress and anxiety are:

Omega-3, 6 and 9

Omegas help to power the brain. They are used in neural cell production and help to regenerate cells for neuronal connections to improve mental capabilities. Omegas can be found in:

  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Salmon
  • Cod

Relaxing Herbs

Herbs and spices when taken orally in the diet or as warm tinctures/teas can help to reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety. Some popular flavors are:

  • Peppermint tea
  • Chamomile tea
  • Passionflower tea
  • Green tea

Spices such as fennel, turmeric, ginger etc. have also been observed to lower stress and inflammation.

Magnesium Rich Diet

Magnesium is an important ingredient that plays a role in hormonal pathways linked to stress and anxiety. Therefore it can be extremely healthy and beneficial to eat magnesium rich foods such as:

  • Coconut milk
  • Tamarind
  • Chia seeds
  • Bananas
  • Lima beans

Take Away:

It is very human-like to pretend that everything is fine when deep down we know that it is not. Seeking help is not only the first step but also the most important step in taking control of anxiety and stress. It’s equally as important to identify and catch the culprit before it causes any further damage. Making yourself aware of stress triggers is very helpful in getting to the root of the issue and combating anxiety. For more strategies to tackle stress, check out the mindful episodes in Brown Sugar Doc, The Podcast. Be sure to also check out In The Kitchen for tasty, healthy recipes and dishes.

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