Being told to relax, even if by a medical professional, is one of those pieces of advice that people love to ignore, preferring something tangible to deal with. Unfortunately, the impact of stress on the body is entirely tangible and does need your attention…
The Stress Response: What's Happening
o Stress triggers the release of the hormone ‘cortisol’ into your body.
o We need cortisol to function, but only at a regulated level. Too much cortisol, produced by continued stressors over time, can be very troublesome.
o Largely because cortisol prompts the release of glucose into the bloodstream.
. . . This is fine, up to a point, but when your blood sugar is continually disrupted, things start to unravel . . .
Loads of stuff could then happen.
Most likely suspects:
o Weight gain around your tum – so that the liver has easy access to fat deposits. No one wants that.
o You’ll be driven to sugary, fatty foods to maintain glucose in the blood. Not great either.
o Blood sugar highs and lows will cause your mood to suffer.
o You’ll struggle to sleep because elevated cortisol levels will meddle with your circadian rhythm.
Why sleep is so important…
o Not to stress you out (!), but one, probably tenuous, study found that: after one night of 4-5 hours sleep your Natural Killer Cells – the ones that destroy potentially cancerous cell mutations in your body every single day – drop by 70%.
o This problem is so significant that the World Health Organisation calls night time shift work a ‘probable carcinogen’.
o And one less dramatic but particularly annoying problem is that inadequate sleep suppresses the release of leptin – the hormone that tells your brain that you’re full. And instead releases ghrelin - the one that tells you that you’re hungry. So then you’re just greedy all the time as well as being tired, demotivated, and stressed out.
What does this mean for your gut flora?
o Energy is diverted away from the gut, inhibiting the function of your digestive system, as resources are directed instead towards the maintenance of blood sugar.
o If you think of your gut as your primary interface with the external world - the bit of you that deals with anything you swallow – then you can start to understand the impact this will have on your entire system's function.
o The integrity of your gut wall may be compromised by the stress response. Meaning that even if you’re eating seriously well, you may not be able to absorb the nutrients from your food because your gut just isn’t able to do its job. So you’re not getting any healthier. Even though you’re trying. Which is irritating.
o The rest of your body may also be subject to invasion by toxic substances, because another role of your gut lining is to keep bad stuff in.
This is all really stressful. So what next…
o Stop looking at screens before you sleep. We’ve all heard this, and probably intuitively felt this to be true – but why? LED-emitting devices reduce the amount of melatonin (the sleepy hormone) that your body is able to release. So when you put the phone down and try and sleep, it will be a lot harder because your body's natural support system for this process is not in place.
o Reduce caffeine. Even if just by one cup/day. Its been rammed down our throats that its bad for us for a very legitimate reason.
o Balance your macronutrients (fats, carbs, proteins). Don’t eliminate anything; just keep everything nicely in proportion so your blood sugar doesn’t go haywire. Aim for a little of each macro at every meal, so that the impact of the glycaemic load on your body is less dramatic.
o Exercise. Obviously.
o This final one isn't massively achievable, but its really cool. I read that sleep can be measured using tracking devices, and that there are some funky companies in America who will actually reward employees with time off if they clock enough sleep. This makes a load of sense because it doesn’t take an expert to tell you that sleep affects your motivation & productivity. So you wouldn’t have to slog it out at your desk for so long if you were well rested. Suggest it to your boss. Or just leave your job altogether. Solved.