What Stress Does To Your Body

From nutritionist  & nutritional chef, Mikaela Reuben

Now that August is slowly coming to its sweet end – with our daylight hours shortening and fall layers being thrown on – we move into a time where work days feel just a little bit longer and heavier. Naturally, strolling in comes our dear friend stress. Stress is one of the most impactful occurrences that happens in our bodies and little of us know how we stress, when we stress, the effects of stress, and proper coping mechanisms to manage. As intense as chronic and acute illnesses are to weight gain and anxiety, stress can be the cause of many ailments that our bodies are currently going through.

How we stress:

Stress creeps into our bodies in various ways. Having an unhealthy sleep cycle, late night snacking, specific foods our bodies don’t agree with, traffic, excessive exercise, lack of down time, pressure from work and at home, the list goes on…. Little do many of us know about the effects of stress, what it’s doing to our bodies and how utterly important stress management is. Especially if an individual is looking to lose weight and feel they are putting in an excessive amount of time doing all the “right” things. You may have heard the saying, “fight or flight” once or twice before and have been unsure as to what this was actually referencing. This saying is referring way back to our caveman days, when humans used to have to run for their lives from danger and hunt, or gather in all conditions to keep their families and themselves alive. Nowadays, humans obtain this life or death response so often that weight gain, fatigue, burn out and so forth aren’t even considered as a result from stress, more so just everyday normalities. 

Effects of Stress:

When we stress, whether we are aware of it or not, our adrenal glands produce cortisol, the number one stress hormone. When cortisol is produced in our bodies, it lowers the amount of melatonin – a chemical that is in charge of our sleep cycle – changing our sleep patterns. It is recommended that if we are lacking the proper amount of sleep per night, we should be catching up by sleeping half the amount of time we are awake in a day, for at least a few days and up until a week. Along with melatonin production, while we sleep we produce two hormones, leptin and ghrelin, both work to control our appetite for the following day. When we lose sleep, our bodies produce more leptin. This is not ideal as leptin makes the body believe it is hungrier than it actually is, resulting in overeating. Not only does lack of sleep make us gain extra weight but cortisol can cause extra gain particularly in the abdominal area. 

Coping Mechanisms:

As intense as this all may sound there is hope for managing stress and the effects it takes on our bodies. Ensuring you are gaining proper sleep is unbelievably important. If you find that this seems impossible for you and your schedule, don’t fret, there are ways around it and hopefully some of these following tips will help.

  1. Buy an eye mask! Melatonin is not produced unless we sleep in pure darkness. Applying an eye mask that cuts out all lighting will ensure the melatonin is created and will encourage a deep, uninterrupted sleep.
  2. Try, if you can, to stay off of your phone an hour or two before falling asleep. The blue light from the screen can disrupt the pineal gland, which is in charge of melatonin secretion. Try to wind down during these hours, read a book, go for a light walk, anything that promotes relaxation. 
  3. Along with optimal sleep, when we feel a strong overwhelming effect of stress, a good way to calm our nervous system down is to breathe. Taking 10 deep breaths, counting to 4 as you inhale and exhale, has been studied to reduce stress immensely.  Sit with your body upright, close your eyes and focus on your breath. 
  4. Last but not least, sitting down and taking the time to eat is a powerful tool. Instead of eating as you run to your next appointment, take the time to sit and chew. This allows your body to move into a state of relaxation, encouraging the digestive system to be in its most optimal state for food break down and nutrient absorption.  

Below, I have included a list of three drinks and three herbs I would recommend to add to your diet if you feel you are stressed and need a place to begin to manage it. These foods are full of healthy fats, protein, an abundance of vitamins and minerals, and withhold strong effects on calming and supporting the body.

Drinks:

Strawberry Hemp Milk:

  • 8-10 Strawberries, cut in half
  • 1/4 cup hemp hearts
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp honey (or maple syrup)
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt

Directions:

Mix all together in a high speed blender, keep refrigerated. 

“Antioxidant boosting smoothie” “Berry delicious smoothie”:

  • 1 tbsp chia seeds + 4 tbsp water + 1/2 tsp vanilla **
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1/2 cup frozen strawberries
  • 1 tbsp hemp oil
  • 1/4 cup hemp hearts
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla (non-alcohol optional)

**Make “chia pudding” at least 10-15 minutes before adding to your smoothie so it has time to thicken

Directions:

Place all ingredients in a high speed blender and allow to pulse for 20 seconds. 

Stop the blending and add in:

  • 1 tbsp UDO’s 3.6.9 oil
  • 1 tbsp spirulina
  • 1 tbsp cacao nibs

Blend again for another 20 seconds. Drink right away!

Chamomile Tea

Chamomile tea is recommended due to its powerful properties in being a natural sedative, helping to promote relaxation, calmness and keeping cortisol levels at bay. Drink this tea before bed to assist in achieving a good nights sleep.

Herbs:

Ashwaganda

  • Ashwaganda is an ancient Indian herb that is used as an adaptogen in the body. It helps the bodies systems, such as the nervous system and adrenals, strengthen and adapt to stress. It is said to be one of the most impactful substances to use when dealing with stress.

Rhodiola

  • Rhodiola is deemed an incredible adaptogen for its ability to reduce cortisol. It helps to balance the whole endocrine system, the network in which works in response to present stress. Not only does it aid in supporting your body, it helps to reduce belly fat by stimulating an enzyme called “hormone-sensitive lipase,” allowing the fat stored in the abdominal area to be located and utilized. 

Holy Basil

  • Holy basil functions as an adaptogen, much like ashwaganda and rhodiola. It enhances the bodies response to stress, both physically and mentally, aiding the response to stress rather than altering it. This special herb helps to decrease stress hormone levels and ultimately works to improve bouts of brain fog, mental clarity, alertness, memory and enhances mood. 

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