Stress hormones – what are they and why do they matter?

We know high levels of stress isn’t good for us. It can have negative effects on the mental and physical health of our bodies. It can cause headaches, insomnia, weight changes just to name a few. A lot of circumstances can make us feel stressed. But what exactly is it?

Stress is the bodies direct response to threat or danger. As our evolution has taken place, this has changed from life or death circumstances to everyday problems that we face such as financial worry, work and many more. The body reacts the same way regardless. When we feel stressed, the sympathetic nervous system activates and quite a few changes in the body are made. Heart rate increases, breathing rate increases, body temperature rises etc. The body also starts to release hormones called Catecholamines. These include epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol released by adrenal glands.

Training also releases this response as I have previously mentioned in my blog post about how mental health affects fitness. Stress can be good for you – it increases concentration, productivity and provides an energy boost. But if stress is chronic and prolonged, the body will start to feel the effects.

I want to focus for a moment on cortisol. Cortisol stimulates insulin release – metaphorically like unlocking the cells to allow glucose to be used for energy. It also makes us HUNGRY! The body craves high sugar, high fat foods to use as energy. Due to this, stress can cause weight gain, which in turn can make you more stressed, and so a vicious cycle ensues.

There are many ways to combat stress (I have attached a link at the bottom of the page from the NHS on their stress busters). I want to share a few ways that I have found work for me:

- Yoga

- Breathing exercises

- Reading

- Getting outside

- Talking to friends and family

- Taking at least 1 day a week completely off work

- Getting my legs up a wall (I’ll cover this in another blog, there is a method to the madness)

Your methods may be completely different or not as achievable as mine, but breathing exercises are free, quick and I have found the most effective. I have also attached a link to some calming breathing exercises to try. Let me know what you think!

Alix x

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