Do you know that physical stress impacts 77% of the population? Some of us are so stressed that we can't cope and perform day-to-day tasks.
So, it is inevitable that at some point during the day, you will feel stressed. It could be in the morning when you try to organise the household, during an important presentation at work, or being stuck in traffic on the way from the office.
Stress is part of life, and you can’t get rid of it. But that does not mean you can’t manage it. I even go as far as saying that you need to do everything that is possible to manage it.
What’s more, managing stress has to be high on your priority list.
Why? Because stress affects your daily life and your health in more ways than you think. Read on to find out 5 ways chronic stress affects your daily lifestyle choices and how you can change it.
Why It Is Important to Talk About Stress
We all talk about stress by not talking about it. Let me explain. You may complain about the constant headaches you are getting. Or you may feel tired all the time. Or you may be running from place to place or procrastinating a lot.
All this is a signal that your stress levels are on the rise. I remember when I lived in a constant state of stress, I didn’t talk about it. I might have mentioned I felt exhausted, didn’t sleep well, or had a glass (or two) of wine to wind down at the end of the day.
But I wasn’t addressing the core of my symptoms. Why?
Because stress is common. As mentioned before, we take it for granted. Stress is embedded into our day-to-day life that sometimes you won’t even recognise it.
However, talking openly about stress is important because the best way to change how you feel and improve your wellbeing is by modelling someone who has been through what you are going through.
It also creates a community where you can get support.
Acute Stress vs Chronic Stress
Before we go further and look at ways in how stress impacts your health and life, I need to make a simple distinction. And this is what is the difference between acute and chronic stress.
A stress response, called a fight-or-flight-or-freeze response, starts when your brain perceives something as a danger. Stress is over a 100,000-year-old survival mechanism. So our brain wanted to warn us of a tiger or a hostile tribe.
Nowadays, your brain still wants to protect you, but this time, from a threat to your ego. And your ego can be triggered by almost anything. It can be the traffic, inbox, other people’s opinions, or the stories you tell yourself.
Your body’s first response is the production of adrenaline. Adrenaline gets you into action. You most likely heard stories when someone risked their life to save another person. They were high on adrenaline.
This type of stress is called acute stress. It is a one-off event. It means something stressful happens, your body turns on the stress response, and when the perceived danger passes, it goes back to homeostasis.
Acute stress is normal and frankly should happen from time to time. Mostly so we get moving. Think how often you were more productive and worked faster because you were under pressure.
However, when you feel stressed all the time, your body’s stress switch gets stuck. It means you experience stress on a biochemical level, but there isn’t a reason for it.
When you stay in a permanent chronic stress response your body and mind take a massive hit. So, let’s have a look at what ways chronic stress affects your health, wellbeing, and ultimately your life.
get your copy of my e-book The wholehearted diet. Discover the power of plant-based eating, stress less, and have more energy.
You Don’t Exercise
Staying fit and keeping your body in a good shape is essential to optimal health and wellbeing. That is why so many New Year’s resolutions are about exercising. And this is why you hear it from every leading health expert: exercise!
The reasons why you don’t exercise vary. But the most common reasons are lack of motivation and lack of time. Both are valid answers, but stress prevents you from exercising too
When you are physically and mentally stressed, the last thing you feel like doing is exercising. You already feel tired, so you don’t have the energy to work out. It makes sense because your body and mind were in survival mode all day trying to keep you safe.
So, when the time comes to put your running shoes on, all your body wants is to rest.
Relaxation needs to be part of your stress management toolkit, and so does exercise. During exercise your body releases endorphins which are our natural painkillers.
You also deliver fresh oxygen into your muscles, bones, and organs, including your brain, so they can function better.
So, what can you do to exercise?
You need to remove the motivation factor from the equation. You will never feel like exercising unless you are training for the ultramarathon.
The best way is to schedule when and for how long you will exercise. When you have the time blocked off and marked in your calendar, you will be more willing to get moving. Regardless of if you feel stressed or not.
Have you ever put off something that you had to do? Or you had to work on an important project but started watching TV and couldn’t stop? It could have even been telling yourself you were not motivated enough to follow through or you didn't have the willpower to preserve.
In other words, you procrastinated.
Procrastination is often viewed as laziness, but this is not entirely true. Often, procrastination is a signal that you feel stressed.
When you are stressed, you feel unsafe. By procrastinating you are looking for a short period of time when you feel safe again.
I can always tell when I’m under a lot of stress because I find myself going down the research rabbit hole or making a to-do list after a to-do list, but I am not taking any action. Every time I catch myself doing that, I know I am overwhelmed and need a break.
One of the best ways to overcome procrastination, other than resolving the underlying source of stress, is to give yourself a timeframe as to how long you will procrastinate for without any guilt.
Once the time is up, go back to what you were planning to do.
This way you acknowledge that you feel stressed, you take a mini-break and relief your mind. You may even want to schedule some procrastination time into your day to keep you focused.
Now, I want to be clear. If you have to do something and deliberately are not doing it, then the source of procrastination is not stress.
You Can’t Lose Weight
Most weight loss programs are based on two components: changing eating habits and adding an exercise routine. And those two components are essential for losing weight.
However, if you find that you are eating healthier and are on track with your new fitness regime, yet the weight is not shifting, then you need to look at the stress levels in your life.
One of the main stress hormones produced by your body during the stress response is cortisol. And cortisol impacts your body’s ability to burn fat. Cortisol tells every cell in your body that food is scarce and you need to store fat to survive.
Therefore, if cortisol levels are high due to the chronic stress you are experiencing, your body will do all it can to store fat rather than burn it. And no amount of kale smoothies or push-ups will change that.
The only way to tell your body that you don’t need that extra fat tissue is to send signals that you are safe. Remember that stress is a physiological response, and it can only be stopped by another physiological response.
That is why you need to take diaphragmatic breaths regularly. Diaphragmatic breathing, also called deep belly breathing, helps to activate your parasympathetic nervous system. PNS is the rest and repair response, and it signals your body that everything is ok.
So, if you ever heard to breathe in a paper bag when you were under pressure, now you know why.
You Crave Carbohydrates
We all heard about the afternoon blood sugar drop. You may even reach out for a cookie convinced that you have a sweet tooth. Be assured that having a healthy sweet treat from time to time is nothing to worry about.
However, if you find yourself craving carbohydrates without apparent reason, you need to look at your adrenaline levels.
As mentioned earlier, adrenaline is one of the main hormones produced during the stress response. Adrenaline tells your body that you are in danger and either you need to fight or flee the scene. In either scenario, you need quick energy to get into action.
And that is when your body reaches for carbohydrates, aka sugar, to deliver that needed energy.
Any carbohydrates used for energy production need to be replaced. This is why you start looking for something sweet. You have sugar cravings.
Opt-in for fruit, such as bananas. They have a high content of sugar and will do the trick. And to avoid the temptation of reaching out for empty calories when you crave sugar, have some healthy snacks handy.
You Are Emotional
Showing an array of emotions is a natural and very healthy process. We display emotions all the time. Even if you find yourself feeling agitated, angry, frustrated, or teary because of the situation you are in, this is still a normal reaction.
However, if those emotions become your default way how you react to all events, the level of stress needs to be addressed. During a stress response, your emotional brain takes over, literally shutting
down your rational brain.
Therefore, you will feel the emotion before you logically think about it.
When you are under a lot of stress, the first response will always be emotional. This may show as being impatient with your partner or your kids, or even snapping at a stranger just because.
The first step is to acknowledge that it is ok to feel all the emotions! You can’t feel happy without feeling sad. Let yourself explore what was the situation that made you feel a certain way. Why did you react the way you did?
An excellent way of offloading your emotional state is writing. Write down all that comes to mind, so you can feel calm and less stressed.
How Stress Effects Your Health
We often talk about the long-term consequences of stress, but chronic stress impacts your day-to-day activities more often than you think. It could be that you have no energy to exercise, struggle to lose weight, or procrastinate a lot.
In addition, stress will decide how your body uses energy. Any carbohydrate consumption needs to be replaced, which can manifest in you having sugar cravings. Even your emotional reaction can be altered by how stressed you feel.
Understanding why you feel stressed and where it comes from will help you to manage it better. And when you know how to handle it you will make healthier lifestyle choices.
Get your copy of my e-book The wholehearted diet. Discover the power of plant-based eating, stress less, and have more energy.