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The Unseen Effects of Stress And Anxiety

· stress,anxiety,mindfulness

Each one has to find his peace from within.

And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances.

- Mahatma Gandhi

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Last month, I shared the Emotional Eating Cycle with you... but how do we get to a place where we seek comfort in food? A key trigger is stress and anxiety. Something many of us have been feeling at a heightened level during the uncertainty and chaos this year has brought. Even at a chronic low level, stress takes a toll on our bodies. I think it is important to understand the effects of all this stress and anxiety if left unchecked.

There are numerous effects on the body, too many to cover in one blog, but I want to highlight some of the biggest ones I hear about from the women I work with and that I have experienced myself. I have experienced low level stress up through anxiety to the level of a full-blown panic attack where I felt like I needed to climb out of my own skin. No matter how stress and anxiety show up in your life, if ignored the effects can be debilitating. Weight loss is a huge area of concern for many people in this country but what may not be understood is that stress has a major impact on success in losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight.

One effect is increased cortisol production. Cortisol is our stress hormone or biological alarm system. If we are under chronic stress, our alarm system doesn’t know to turn off and wreaks havoc on our bodies. Cortisol production is associated with weight gain, particularly in the belly. It also creates an inability to lose weight, gain muscle, and causes premature aging.

Stress and anxiety also create confusion in how our bodies process nutrients. Nutrient absorption is decreased while nutrient excretion is increased. Diminished internal functions include production of enzymes from the stomach, pancreas, and liver, bile flow from the gallbladder, as well as oxygenation and gastrointestinal blood flow. Meanwhile, urinary excretion of calcium and trace minerals including magnesium, potassium, zinc, chromium, and selenium goes up. That doesn’t sound good for gut health! The loss of trace minerals is particularly critical for women since it can also cause a significant loss of bone density leading to osteoporosis.

Do you feel like your metabolism has come to a screeching halt? Stress decreases our bodies ability to burn calories and lowers our metabolic function. Basically, our internal furnace breaks down from chronic stress. Learning how to productively manage stress and anxiety is essential for maintaining a healthy metabolism. A healthy metabolism is critical because it has multiple jobs: it converts food into energy to run our cellular processes, it converts our food into fuel so we can perform basic functions, and it aids in the elimination of waste.

Another big disruption from stress affects cellular energy. Target cells can become unresponsive to insulin, a factor in diabetes, weight gain, heart disease and aging, as well as a decrease in mitochondria production, the cell's energy powerhouses. When these cellular organelles are reduced in number, we literally produce less energy. Leading to brain fog and chronic fatigue. An array of auto immune disorders now also effect millions of Americans.

The final one I’ll mention is increased food sensitivities and allergies. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence, most likely due to decreased immunity and leaky gut. I also frequently hear from my clients that they can no longer tolerate foods they used to love when they were younger.

It’s no surprise that mindfulness and meditation have become popular recommendations for relieving stress and anxiety. I have personally found that meditation can help relieve stress and anxiety. I usually opt for a guided meditation online. I have also found that even if you don’t like journaling on a regular basis, writing about a problem which is creating ongoing stress or uncertainty is extremely helpful in providing relief and often a much needed resolution.

To Your Health!