How Being In A Constant State Of Stress Affects The Body

It could be the reason you're struggling to lose weight.
Stress is no fun for anyone.
Stress is no fun for anyone.

You didn't need another article lecturing you on stress to remind you of the negative effect it has. The state of your inbox, and probably your neck pain, is evidence in itself, though you can't argue with gaining a broader understanding of how to recognise when it strikes.

"In this day and age stress is certainly a big thing for people," Dr Vivienne Lewis, practicing clinical psychologist and a lecturer in the Faculty of Health at the University of Canberra told The Huffington Post Australia.

"When you talk to the average person it's likely they'll tell you they are experiencing some sort of stress in their lives," Lewis said.

Interestingly, Lewis said people tend to cope reasonably well with the bigger events like illness or somebody dying. It's the smaller things, like a difficult colleague, being given too many tasks or even a single email that gets us worked up.

"It's certainly a symptom of modern society and often, it's about thinking realistically because you'll usually find that you won't feel as stressed the next day," Lewis said.

The idea that we are under a constant state of stress is something Lewis says can be detrimental to how the body responds to things like exercise and food.

Tell-tale signs of stress

  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches, neck aches
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Failure to concentrate
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach problems
  • Trouble sleeping

"When the stress hormone, cortisol, is being produced all the time it can have a direct effect on someone's appetite and also their ability to lose and gain weight," Lewis said.

Lewis explains stress can also have the opposite effect.

"We've all heard stories of people losing weight following a stressful time in their life," Lewis said.

"That's often because they are so stressed that they can't eat or it could be due to their body constantly producing adrenaline," Lewis said.

The body is in the fight or flight response which is fantastic when you're actually under threat, but when there isn't a real stress it's just feeding you with a whole pile of anxiety.

Too much cortisol and too much adrenaline aren't good explains Lewis, who likens them to toxic substances in the body.

"The body is in the fight or flight response, which is fantastic when you're actually under threat, but when there isn't a real stress it's just feeding you with a whole pile of anxiety," Lewis said.

Lewis explains this anxiety and stress affects people's behaviour more than anything and leads to poor decision making.

"We'll often see people who are stressed eating more, drinking more and smoking more," Lewis said.

Steps to de-stress

  • "Be in tune with your body and listen to what your shoulder, neck and head tells you," Lewis said.
  • Regularly do things to physically relax the body and mind. "This includes baths, taking a break outside in the fresh air and meditation," Lewis said.
  • Get moving! "Exercise is a great way to bring your body back into balance."
  • "It's also about scheduling these things [above] into your diary and making an effort to include them in your everyday life," Lewis said.
  • Remember, if you're really worked up about something and it's interfering with your day-to-day, go to a doctor, counsellor or psychologist. "Somebody who can listen to what's going on and actually help you put strategies in place to manage it," Lewis said.