Why should I care about managing my stress? It’s no big deal, right?
But did you know that chronic stress can predispose you to many health conditions, from uncomfortable to serious? Chronic muscle tension. Cardiovascular disease. Weight gain. And type 2 diabetes.
In fact, stress is the single most frequent reason people turn to acupuncture. It certainly holds true in my San Rafael practice.
How is stress affecting my body?
When you’re overwhelmed by stress, your body redirects its resources away from day-to-day functions like digestion, immune function, reproduction, and cellular repair.
Instead of resting and digesting, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode. Adrenaline is released to give you more energy. It also increases your heart rate and causes your muscles to tense.
Another stress hormone, norepinephrine, floods your system. It causes blood to be directed away from your digestive and reproductive organs to your muscles.
These responses are very useful in cases of perceived physical threats. You want extra energy, too look bigger and stronger, and have more oxygen available to your muscles when you are going to fight or outrun a tiger.
The problem is, you aren’t trying to outrun a tiger. You’re really trying to meet a deadline or handle a challenging interpersonal situation.
So instead of helping you escape a perceived threat, your stress response may be causing you to be irritable and anxious. You may also experience chronic muscle tension and decreased cardiovascular health.
And then there’s the third stress hormone your body releases—cortisol, the one responsible for weight gain.
Cortisol helps give you more energy and focus to flee or fight a tiger by converting fat into sugar. It ensures your brain and muscles have all the energy they need to function in a crisis.
Sounds like a good thing, right? And shouldn’t cortisol be causing you to lose weight if it’s converting fat to useful energy?
Well, no. When cortisol is released it reduces insulin production.
Insulin is the hormone that unlocks the door so sugar from the bloodstream can enter cells and give them energy to function.
So without enough insulin, that bunch of sugar floating in your bloodstream can’t be accessed by your cells. Depleted cells send a signal to your brain that you’re hungry and this increase in appetite can lead to weight gain.
Also, you’re left with the added sugar in your bloodstream not burned off in hand-to-hand combat or by running away. If you’re stressed and not exercising regularly, this can lead to chronically elevated blood sugar.
This, in turn, can lead to insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.
So why manage your chronic stress?
It’s about prevention. Managing your stress now can help you prevent body pain, cardiovascular disease, and blood sugar deregulation down the line.