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What Stress Is Doing To Your Body

When faced with a threat, the bodes "fight or flight" response takes over. The nervous system reacts by flooding the body with adrenaline (to make the heart beat faster), cortisol (to release glucose into the bloodstream for energy) and other stress hormones to help the body run faster and fight harder.

In times of real or perceived danger, the hormones curtail non-essential bodily functions such as digestion and disease prevention. This is fine once in a while, but chronic stress compromises the immune function, so viruses can get the upper hand.

A study at Stanford University in California linked the production of stress-related hormones with breast cancer progression, suggesting a link between the immune system and the body's ability to fight breast cancer.

How To Beat It

  • Structure your day so you feel more in control. Think twice about cancelling on friends, as studies prove a night out with the girls ups the body's stores of oxytocin, a stress-relieving hormone.
  • Take a multivitamin, it won't replace a well-balanced diet, but it can help close short-term nutritional gaps.

Stress And Digestion

When your stomach churns and burns, it may not be due to something you ate. The discomfort could stem from aggravation resulting from this morning's traffic jam or that row with hubby last night. "Very often, stress manifests itself in the gastrointestinal tract," says Dr Glenn Gibson of the University of Reading's School of Food Biosciences. The presence of stress hormones slows digestion so food stays in your intestines longer, upsetting the delicate balance of gut flora that help break down food.

How To Beat It

  • Eat more fruit and veggies. Bananas, onions and leek alter the components of existing gut flora positively.
  • Take antibiotics sparingly. Using them to treat every small infection compromises your beneficial gut flora as they kill off all kinds of bacteria indiscriminately.

Stress And Moods

Short-term stress signals such as low self-esteem, irritability, guilt, pessimism, and procrastination can be the start of more serious health problems. Again, stress hormones are the likely culprits. Abnormally high levels of the hormone ACTH, which stimulates cortisol secretion, are present in many depression cases.

How To Beat It

  • Cut high-sugar snacks. We often crave Garbs when we are down, but while they may make you feel better instantly, your mood quickly plummets.
  • Recognise negative thoughts as they occur. Jumping to conclusions or generalising shows cognitive distortion and is a quick route to a bad mood.

Stress And Sleep

Interrupted sleep is often the cause of our energy ebbs. Serotonin and melatonin - hormones that regulate the body's 24-hour sleep cycle-are often among the first chemical messengers to fail in times of stress. If they aren't at optimum levels, sleep can be interrupted.

High levels of cortisol, which increases arousal, can also make restful sleep impossible. Studies in England found that chronic insomniacs had higher cortisol levels than their well-rested counterparts.

How To Beat It

  • Write. At the end of a day, jot down thoughts, concerns or action items for the next day-then forget about them.
  • Don't work out after 6 pm. The short metabolism boost that comes after exercising can make it hard to sleep.

Stress And Fertility

There's no direct link between stress and fertility, but super-stressed-out ladies experience changes in hormone levels that may lead to irregular ovulation.

How To Beat It

  • Cultivate calm. Activities like yoga and progressive muscle relaxation (tensing, then releasing each body party can help.
  • Live in the moment. Learn to appreciate the here and now, and simple pleasures like the smell of your favorite food.

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