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Symptoms of Stress Explained

Stress is an issue for lots of us and can result in many different symptoms and health issues. In 2018, the Mental Health Foundation found that 74% of over 4000 people surveyed had felt so stressed that they had been over whelmed or unable to cope.  The survey also found that 46% reported that they ate too much or ate unhealthily due to stress and 29% said that they started drinking or increased their drinking.  Can you imagine the results of the same survey in 2020 with a global pandemic going on?

Chronic stress can affect all aspects of our health and manifest itself through many different symptoms. This blog post explains three common symptoms of stress and explains why they happen.

Digestive Issues
Bloating, constipation, gas, belching and indigestion are just a few digestive symptoms that could potentially be a result of stress. When you’re stressed, your body switches from rest and digest to fight or flight mode (our survival mode) which means our digestive system switches off (we don’t need to digest food when we need to survive). Overtime, this makes our gut less efficient at it’s role of moving food through the digestive system, taking out the nutrients we need and getting rid off the waste. How can we effectively break down our food and absorb nutrients when it’s switched off?  The answer is, we can’t and it results in these ‘IBS type symptoms’ and an unhealthier gut. The healthier our gut is, the better our overall health is too.

Cravings and Overeating
Do you crave anything sweet or salty? Prolonged stress can result in an increase of cravings, especially sugar, salty or processed foods.  One reason for this is that the stress hormone cortisol plays havoc with our blood sugar balance: when cortisol levels increase, your blood sugar increases quickly (it needs energy to deal with the stressor), but afterwards it also drops quickly bringing on an energy slump and an urge for more sugar.  To sum it up, stress can take you on a blood sugar roller coaster ride.
The stress hormone cortisol can also affect hormones associated with our appetite.  It can lead to a decrease in the hormone leptin which tells us when we are full and can increase the hormone ghrelin which increases our appetite.  This is why some of us overeat, especially during chronic, long term stress.

Changes in Mood
Feeling down, anxious and not motivated to do anything? The Mental Health Foundation found in their study that 51% of adults who felt stressed reported feeling depressed and 61% reported feeling anxious.  When cortisol levels are out of balance it can have an impact on our levels of neurotransmitters which play an important role on our mood.  For example, GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter that helps us feel calm and relaxed, chronic stress reduces this therefore it can result in us feeling more anxious. Dopamine, another import neurotransmitter is also reduced when we are stressed. It plays a role in motivation and interest. So, it’s no surprise our mood is affected when stress levels are high.

Managing stress in our lives can get to the root cause of many symptoms which reduce our quality of life and affect our health and wellbeing.  If you would like to learn more about how stress affects our bodies and how to manage it then my Eat to Beat Stress course can support you to make changes through nutrition and lifestyle - CLICK HERE to find out more.