Don’t get stressed about stress

I make a lot of fuss about the importance of nutrition and movement in achieving and maintaining good health. The importance of sleep is also well documented. There’s another huge issue that pretty much affects all of us at some point: stress. Stress can derail all our best efforts to be healthy despite good nutrition. We all have different ways of coping with stress and stressful situations, but how does this affect our health in the short and long term? You could look at stress as two distinct types; the acute stress we may feel in a threatening situation, such as the prospect of being eaten by a bear, an unpleasant physical confrontation such as being mugged or an argument with a colleague. There is also chronic stress that so many people suffer from; this may be due to on-going financial trouble, trying to meet unachievable targets at work or unhappiness in a relationship. The short term acute stress is what we seem built to handle and has been part of our human experience for as long as we’ve been around but this modern low level, constant stress is not good (Wolf, 2010).

So there are good and bad ‘stressors’ on the body. Exercise would be a type of good stress when the body can respond positively to improve. Overtraining on the other hand is a bad stressor, which would lead to break down and injury (Chek, 2004). One key hormone you may have heard of when it comes to stress is cortisol, this is a very important hormone and required at just the right levels (Wolf, 2010). In terms of it’s connection with stress, cortisol is released more frequently when someone is subjected to chronic stress in particular.

Cortisol is important as I’ve stated and is generally at higher levels in the morning and decreases as the day goes on. It’s rise and fall has an impact on other hormones such as melatonin and insulin, (see blog post: sleep when you’re dead?). Cortisol affects sleep too but is also made worse by lack of sleep at the right time, so creating a vicious cycle. Chronically elevated cortisol levels increase blood sugar levels, this can cause insulin resistance (Hartwigs, 2012). One problem with cortisol is that it tends to send body fat to the abdominal region. We’ve all seen those skinny, stressed out guys with a belly, right?

Other issues include stress related over-eating, generally eating carbohydrates, void of nutrition (Hartwigs, 2012). The other major problem is that stress is related to numerous diseases from diabetes, inflammation, asthma and various autoimmune conditions such as Crohn’s and psoriasis (Kresser, 2013).

The key therefore is managing stress or avoiding it completely and different ways will work for different people, the topic of another post maybe.

So don’t get stressed by reading this and continue to eat real food, move and be healthy!


Chek, P. 2004 How to Eat Move and Be Healthy! Chek Institute

Hartwig, D&M. 2012 It Starts with Food

Kresser, C. 2013 Your Personal Paleo Diet. Piatkus

Wolf, R (2010) The Paleo Solution

2 Comments on Don’t get stressed about stress

  1. You can think of “distress” (a.k.a. bad stress) as the mind’s resistance to change and the environment. We often exacerbate this response not only with bad food choices, but also two “biggies” – caffeine and alcohol.

    As a wellness colleague, might I suggest this article about breathing:
    When stressed, we often subconsciously begin to breathe short, shallow breaths. If we consciously take the time to work on our breath when stressed, it’s one tool that can alleviate the stress response.

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