Stress. This word can evoke a variety of emotions within us and means different things to different people. We have an entire month (the month of April), dedicated to thinking about stress.
My name is Jessica Sharp and I am a brain expert and the Founder of Sharp Brain Consulting. I was a client of Blush Nutrition and loved my experience with Brittany for lots of reasons, but partly because of her holistic approach to health and nutrition. She and I both know that stress impacts weight and health and we both think it is important to talk more in-depth about stress and how it impacts our life.
There are two types of stress: acute and chronic. Acute stress is actually good for our brains and is short and does not have lasting effects on us. When you almost hit someone in your car and have to stop and get anxious about that. That is acute stress. When you are in an unhealthy relationship that consistently makes you feel stressed and anxious, this is chronic stress. Chronic stress, which is also known as toxic stress is what happens when stress becomes constant and consistent. There are a variety of things that can cause chronic stress, but some examples are a dysfunctional family, major work issues, abusive or unhealthy relationships.
I would encourage you to pause here and think about your stress. What is stressing you out? Do you think it is acute or chronic? Having an understanding of the type of stress you are dealing with will help you to manage the symptoms.
Okay, back to the blog. I won’t get too scientific on you, but stress sets off a process in the brain that can have long-term effects on our body. The amygdala is in the back of our brain and is shaped like an almond. Among other things, it activates our ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response that many people have heard it. It also controls our impulses and attaches emotions to memories. When we are experiencing stress, the amygdala sets off a process that increases adrenaline and cortisol and increases our heart rate. When we are experiencing acute, short-term stress, our heart rate goes down and our adrenaline and cortisol levels will decrease after a relatively short amount of time. When our stress is consistent and does not go away quickly, the levels of cortisol and adrenaline don’t decrease. That means are heart rate does not go down to a normal level. Additionally, because cortisol is involved in so many things in our bodies, it decreases our ability to fight infections, can make us gain weight, is linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and early death. Early death. Death can literally kill us.
In one of my previous jobs, I was definitely dealing with chronic stress. I loved my job but always felt like I had so much going on and never could find the bottom of my to-do list. The increased levels of cortisol definitely caused weight gain (particularly in my belly- yikes).
In addition to the list above, chronic stress can cause us to experience memory loss and decreased levels of serotonin and dopamine. Those two chemicals are linked to happiness, and when too low can lead to anxiety and depression. Finally, chronic stress can increase the size of our amygdala and decrease the size of our prefrontal cortex. Those are all science-y words to say that we become more impulsive and have a harder time with decision making, long term planning, focusing and organizing.
Later this month, we will talk about how to manage stress to help decrease the likelihood of experiencing these negative outcomes. For now, though, I want you to take some time to think about stress.
Write down the things in your life that cause you stress. Are you experiencing more acute or chronic stress? Thinking about your stressors will not only make you more self-aware but will also help to decrease your stress level.
I will be sharing more de-stressing tips with you later on this month – but bor now, though, feel free to engage with me on social media! Follow me on Instagram at @sharpbrainconsulting
-Written by Jessica Sharp, MPA