The Effects of Stress on the Body and 4 Simple Ways to Cope
What are the effects of stress on the body? Let’s paint a picture, it’s 5 AM and your alarm is blaring. You rush to help the kids get ready for school, hit the gym to train for the triathlon you’re doing in a few months, or go over your notes for the important presentation that’s happening today at work. There’s barely time to take a shower and get out the door, much less eat breakfast. Traffic is crazy! Your phone is ringing! And it’s only 8 AM!
Whew! Just reading about this typical daily scenario gets the heart racing. But, it begs the question:
What are the Effects of Stress on the Body?
What are the effects of stress on the body according to the foundations of health? Physical symptoms of stress, can range from nausea and headaches, exhaustion, adrenal fatigue, digestive issues, blood pressure and blood sugar irregularities, and more. We will dive a bit deeper to uncover what exactly is happening in the five foundations: Digestion, Blood Sugar, Minerals, Fatty Acids, Minerals, and Hydration.
We begin with digestion, our major nutritional foundation. Stress has a serious, negative effect on the physiology of digestion. It’s not just the big stressful events, like moving or losing a job, that can wreak havoc on digestion. The body is not wired to handle even acute stress in combination with the need to digest. Stress impacts saliva production, can diminish or increase hydrochloric acid production, depending on the person, impacts the ability of the valves and sphincters to open and close, and negatively effects peristalsis and gut motility.
Even more, not dealing with stress long term can create inappropriate intestinal permeability, commonly called leaky gut. Stress may be an “unturned stone” for many people who are suffering with digestive symptoms that don’t respond to dietary or nutrient support. [1, 2, 3]
Our ability to regulate blood sugar is profoundly effected by stress. The stress response requires the body to recruit all available reserves to quickly produce the hormones, chemicals, and rise in blood sugar the body needs to maintain balance. Chronic stress and the corresponding prolonged response may eventually lead to inflammation and chronically imbalanced blood sugar. Anxiety and stress can be an underlying cause of insulin resistance, metabolic disorders, and hormonal imbalances. [4, 5]
Constant stress impacts fatty acid sufficiency because it impairs proper digestion. The release of bile from the gallbladder is a relaxed, parasympathetic process. A chronically stressed person living in a sympathetic state will have less than optimal ability to break down and absorb dietary fats. 
The stress response is ‘minerally expensive.’ Zinc, magnesium, and calcium are heavily utilized by the nervous system for healthy cognition and may become depleted under times of prolonged stress. Calcium is an extracellular (outside of the cell) signaling molecule on which many nerve processes are dependent. Magnesium is important for metabolic reactions, particularly the production and use of ATP. Zinc is essential for protein structure and function and is concentrated in synaptic vesicles of certain neurons. 
Our ability to maintain a proper water/electrolyte balance may also be affected by stress. HPA activation similarly to the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, increases secretion of a hormone called aldosterone. Aldosterone works in the kidneys to maintain a balance of water, sodium, and potassium. In addition, Aldosterone is created from cholesterol in the adrenal glands. When increased during times of stress may contribute not only to imbalanced minerals, but also metabolic and cardiovascular dysfunction. [8, 9]
Dealing with Stress: 4 Ways to Cope with Stress
What can we do to stop the effects of stress on the body? Investigating our lives to find moments of possible stress reduction is key, such as having a whole food breakfast prepared and ready in the fridge. Below are a few other tips.
1. Breathing Techniques
Breathing techniques can help to calm the nervous system by inducing the parasympathetic or ‘rest and digest’ response. The 4-7-8 technique is one such breath:
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a “shh” sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a “shh” sound to a count of
- Repeat several times until you feel calm.
2. Daily Movement
Adding movement to your day will help to offset stress and bring balance back to your nervous system, and ultimately your life. There are many kinds of movement practices to choose from. Find one that suits your lifestyle, your time, and one that you really enjoy. Everyday actions can be both a mindfulness and a movement practice.
For example, when you sweep the floor, sweep with your whole body. When you stir a pot, stir from the hips, not just your wrist. When you reach for something on the top shelf use it as an opportunity stretch from your feet on the floor through the reach of your fingertips. When walking, swing your arms and smile. Also, breathe fully and deeply throughout the day. Let breath be its own kind of movement.
- Take a walk around the block
- Do a 2-minute yoga flow
- Do a 1-minute plank
- Opt for an exercise ball instead of a desk chair
- Park further away from your destination
3. Get out in Nature
There have been multiple studies showing that spending thoughtful time in nature can act as a potent form of therapy, specifically for attention-deficit disorder and other ailments. Scientists looking at the matter suggest that spending time in nature is equally important as healthy sleep, hygiene, and proper nutrition.
4. A Nutrient-Dense Diet
Incorporation of nutrient-rich foods that support blood sugar balance and optimize metabolism such as B vitamin rich pastured liver, fiber-rich properly prepared grains and legumes, mineral-rich nuts, seeds, and an array of colorful vegetables will assist the body to deal with stress. Practicing the breathing techniques before consuming a meal can also help to stimulate the proper digestive responses. Ultimately, this will help to absorb as many nutrients as possible in the foods you consume.
We talked about symptoms of stress and the effects of stress on the body. Not dealing with stress can a detriment of our long-term health and vitality. There are many ways to navigate stress and combat these symptoms. Some include, breathing techniques, daily movement, getting out in nature, incorporating a nutrient-dense diet, and more. It’s important to prioritize each nutritional foundation, beginning with digestion.
- Esplugues, J. V., Barrachina, M. D., Beltrán, B., Calatayud, S., Whittle, B. J., & Moncada, S. (1996).
Inhibition of gastric acid secretion by stress: a protective reflex mediated by cerebral nitric oxide. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 93(25), 14839–14844. doi:10.1073/pnas.93.25.14839
- Holtmann, G., Kriebel, R. & Singer, M.V. Digest Dis Sci (1990) 35: 998. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01537249
- Mittal, R.K. and Goyal, R.K. (2006).
Sphincter mechanisms at the lower end of the esophagus. GI Motility online. doi:10.1038/gimo14. https://www.nature.com/gimo/contents/pt1/full/gimo14.html
- Falco, G., Pirro, P. S., Castellano, E., Anfossi, M., Borreda, G., & Gianoo, L. (2015).
The Relationship between Stress and Diabetes Mellitus. Journal of Neurology and Psychology, 1-7.
- Surwit, R. S., Schneider, M. S., & Feinglos, M. M. (1992).
Stress and Diabetes Mellitus. Diabetes Care, 1413-1422.
- Mizuno, K., & Ueno, Y. (2017).
Autonomic Nervous System and the Liver. Hepatology Research, 160-165.
- Kennedy, D. O., Veasey, R., Watson, A., Dodd, F., Jones, E., Maggini, S., & Haskell, C. F. (2010).
Effects of high-dose B vitamin complex with vitamin C and minerals on subjective mood and performance in healthy males. Psychopharmacology, 55-68.
- Kubzansky, L. D., & Alder, G. K. (2010).
Aldosterone: A forgotten mediator of the relationship between psychological stress and heart disease. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 80-86.
- Scod, J., & Dunn, R. (2019). Physiology, Aldosterone. In J. Scod, & R. Dunn, StatPearls.
Treasure Island: StatPearls Publishing LLC.
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