Chronic Effects of Stress on Health and Weight Loss
Stress is a common emotional sensation that many people experience on a regular basis. While some stress is beneficial, prolonged periods of stress, known as chronic stress, can be harmful to our bodies and minds. This article will go over the effects of chronic stress as well as strategies for dealing with it.
What is chronic stress?
Chronic stress occurs when you have been subjected to high levels of stress for an extended period of time. Chronic stress can be caused by a difficult relationship, a difficult job, or financial difficulties. When you are under stress for an extended period of time, these emotions can have a devastating effect on your physical and mental health. Chronic stress, for example, can cause symptoms such as headaches, tiredness, weakened immune systems, and muscle tension, as well as mental deficits such as anxiety, depression, or difficulty sleeping. Chronic stress, if not treated properly, can have long-term consequences that affect your quality of life.
How does chronic stress impact health?
Chronic stress can impact your health in both physical and mental forms.
Long-term stressor exposure can result in a variety of health problems, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and autoimmune problems1. It has also been shown to weaken the immune system, lowering the body’s ability to fight illnesses such as the common cold and flu2.
Some studies even suggest that stress can influence the development and progression of cancer. According to research, stress hormones affect tumors in a variety of ways, including their ability to form, grow, and spread. One study, for example, found that chronic stress, as measured by high cortisol levels, increased tumor weight and the likelihood that it would spread to other organs. Similarly, some experts believe that targeting the central nervous system can supplement standard cancer treatment, potentially improving outcomes.
Chronic stress can also lead to a variety of mental health issues, particularly anxiety and depression. Long-term exposure to life stressors has been shown to induce symptoms of depression in people with mood disorders. Depressed people, on average, have higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, than their peers4. Depression is characterized by a depressed mood, loss of interest, and a number of other symptoms. Other mental disorders, such as anxiety, can also be caused by prolonged stressors.
How does chronic stress impact weight loss?
Weight is one of many physical characteristics that can be influenced by prolonged stress. These physical weight changes can be attributed to two factors: changes in appetite and changes in metabolism.
Changes in Appetite
The way stress affects one’s appetite depends on the type of stress and the individual. It can, however, have an impact on one’s eating habits and food preferences. When someone is under acute stress, which means they are under stress for a short period of time, they may have a suppressed appetite, limiting their food intake. Chronic stress causes the opposite reaction, in which people actively seek out and consume high-fat, energy-dense foods. Similarly, chronic stress is linked to weight gain and obesity.
Changes in Metabolism
Cortisol, as previously stated, is a major hormone involved in the body’s stress response. Cortisol, in turn, can alter your body’s pathophysiology, including your metabolism. Under stress, the adrenal glands release cortisol, causing your body to go into fight or flight mode. The body’s metabolism slows down in this state. Furthermore, it stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism, causing the body to increase energy utilization and, as a result, appetite. As previously stated, changes in appetite can have an impact on weight.
Strategies to Manage Chronic Stress
Although there are consequences to chronic stress, there are also several ways to manage stress levels.
When people are stressed, they often do not prioritize things like physical activity and eating a healthy diet. The reality is that, while these practices take time and effort, they can help reduce stress levels. Most forms of movement can relieve stress when it comes to exercise. Exercise accomplishes this through a variety of mechanisms. For starters, it increases endorphins in the body, which are hormones that help improve mood while decreasing feelings of discomfort. Exercise has also been shown to improve your overall mood by relaxing your body, reducing depression and anxiety symptoms, and improving your sleep.
The great thing about exercise is that there are so many different types of movement that it is suitable for almost everyone. Walking, running, cycling, weightlifting, swimming, doing yoga, or climbing stairs are all examples of good physical activity. Individuals should prioritize exercise and engage in workouts that they enjoy in order to achieve optimal results in the context of stress.
Mediation is a centuries-old practice that has been used to become more mindful and relieve negative emotions such as stress. Similarly, meditation is a simple technique that can be incorporated into anyone’s daily routine. It is simple, inexpensive, and does not necessitate the use of any equipment or professionals.
Mediation aids in the restoration of a state of peace, calm, and relaxation in the body. You should concentrate on something calming during meditation. This allows you to manage your stress while staying present and slowing down your body and mind. Mediation has been shown to have benefits other than stress reduction. It has also been demonstrated to improve sleep quality, lower blood pressure, and raise self-awareness.
A well-balanced diet is critical for reducing stress symptoms as well as the negative effects of stress. As previously stated, stress can weaken your immune system. A healthy diet boosts your immune system and gives you more energy. Certain foods, such as vegetables and omega-3 fats, can even help regulate cortisol levels.
Stress can have a significant impact on both our mental and physical health. It can specifically harm your weight loss goals by increasing your appetite and slowing your metabolism. This can lead to weight gain over time. Fortunately, there are numerous methods for dealing with chronic stress. These include physical activity, a nutritious diet, and meditation. Consider incorporating these into your routine if you experience both short-term and long-term stress.
- Tafet GE, Pilotte N, Dominguez JM, et al. Acute stress-induced changes in plasma glucose, insulin, and corticosterone in rats. Stress. 2005;8(3):153-159. doi:10.1080/10253890590969874
- Epel ES, McEwen B, Seeman T, et al. Stress and body shape: stress-induced cortisol secretion is consistently greater among women with central fat. Psychosom Med. 2000;62(5):631-636.
- Weichselbaum E, Epel E. Stress, eating and the reward system. Physiol Behav. 2015;152:381-389. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2015.04.033.
- How too much stress can cause weight gain and what to do about it. Orlando Health. https://www.orlandohealth.com/content-hub/how-too-much-stress-can-cause-weight-gain-and-what-to-do-about-it. Published January 2021.
- Stress and Health. The Nutrition Source. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/stress-and-health/.