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Trying to Manage it All? How Stress Can Affect Our Health by Amy Panetta, MA, NC

In our society, it has become a normal practice to “do it all” and balance the pressures of earning an income, success in our career, managing a home, taking care of children, and nurturing a relationship. Because of this, we feel stressed out, tired, wired, mentally foggy, and weighed down with worries, as well as being weighed down with excess weight.

Some of us struggle to get through the day without a generous amount of caffeine and overeating on sweets, or savory calorie-dense meals and snacks. In the morning we struggle to stay awake and alert, but when it is time for us to rest we have trouble falling asleep because we are ruminating about the day’s events. We struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep, whether it is due to these worries, or by young children waking us throughout the night.

Often, we maintain a chronic stress cycle, with our “fight or flight” stress mechanism stuck in the “on” position. During the “fight or flight” response, the sympathetic division of the nervous system is engaged to deal with the situation at hand, either by entering into conflict, or running away. A state of “freeze” is also possible where we stop in our tracks, like a deer in headlights, unsure what our next move will be.¹

In the midst of the stress response, the hypothalamus in the brain releases corticotropin-releasing hormone to the pituitary gland. The pituitary then releases adrenocorticotropin to the adrenal glands which signals that they flood the body with cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), and norepinephrine.²

This sympathetic state in the nervous system will cause blood pressure and heart rate to rise temporarily. Glucose and lipids, such as cholesterol and triglycerides, are released into the bloodstream.³ While this may be relatively harmless when stress is acute, when stress is ongoing, it can create the risk for heart attack, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, as well as a myriad of other conditions.⁴

While so many adults cope with a full schedule, how can we have time to support our body’s ability to deal with stress? Stay tuned to find out 5 Simple Ways to Ease Tension and Lower Stress Hormones in our next blog article!

Amy Panetta, MA, NC, is a 2019 Hawthorn University graduate in our Nutrition Consultant program. Amy empowers women who are feeling stressed, weighed down, and exhausted to find balance, lose excess weight, and feel vibrant. In her thesis, Amy focused on the connection between chronic stress, allostatic overload, and obesity in women. She currently works with clients individually or in groups to create their own transitional approach towards a diet filled with lots of whole foods, helpful supplementation, and lifestyle changes. She offers nutrition consulting online, as well as outside of Montreal, Quebec and in the Burlington, Vermont area. More of her articles can be found on her blog:

¹Schmidt, Norman B et al. (2008). “Exploring human freeze responses to a threat stressor.” Journal of behavior therapy and experimental psychiatry vol. 39, 3: 292-304. doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2007.08.002
² Dhabhar, Firdaus S. (2018). “The short-term stress response – Mother nature’s mechanism for enhancing protection and performance under conditions of threat, challenge, and opportunity.” Frontiers in neuroendocrinology vol. 49: 175-192. doi:10.1016/j.yfrne.2018.03.004
³ Wannamethee, G, and A G Shaper. (1994). “The Association between Heart Rate and Blood Pressure, Blood Lipids and Other Cardiovascular Risk Factors.” Journal of Cardiovascular Risk, U.S. National Library of Medicine,
⁴ Ryan KK. (2014). “Stress and Metabolic Disease” Sociality, Hierarchy, Health: Comparative Biodemography: A Collection of Papers. Weinstein M, Lane MA, editors. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US).