The answer, of course, is yes. But why?

When we’re in a stressed state, we release different hormones, predominately cortisol, which can have a negative effect on our body composition because cortisol instructs the liver to secrete glucose into the bloodstream (in effect to get us ready for action because it thinks we’re in a threat state). We then have elevated glucose in the blood – which is not great for our energy levels or our body composition (our weight management). But stress can also affect the entire body from top to tail. It can switch on and off genes that we don’t necessarily want switched on or off, it can significantly affect our overall health through our genetic expression, which I think is fascinating!

It also affects the nervous system – the autonomic nervous system. There are two branches to this nervous system: sympathetic and parasympathetic.

Sympathetic is our fight, flight, freeze response. That’s our threat state, and when we’re stressed, we’re in a sympathetic dominant state.

Parasympathetic is our rest and digest, and that’s the state we want to be in most of the time, but not all the time. It’s important to move from a sympathetic to parasympathetic to sympathetic to parasympathetic dominant state. That’s what we were designed to do.

As ancestral people, we weren’t always relaxed and chilled out by the campfire, but we weren’t always being attacked and chasing predators either, so our body is used to working between those two types of nervous system states. But the issue is when the stress becomes prolonged and elevated. It’s fine to be stressed some of the time – that stress could be a deadline, a very stressful event, a health scare, or it could be a workout. There are different types of stress. A workout puts us into that stress state, but it’s hermetic – it has something that could be bad for us, but in a small dose has a positive effect.

In order to change our physiology, we want to take ourselves into a stress state through exercise (as an example) every now and again provided we get suitable recovery. It’s ok to have stress if it’s not prolonged, and it’s not elevated for long periods of time, and you build in enough recovery; That really is the key.

Most people I speak to or observe, don’t get enough recovery. If you can try and make that stress spikier by building in lots of recovery in between, you’re going to find that it has a far less detrimental effect on your health.

To summarise, stress is very bad for the body if it’s prolonged and elevated. It can change our gene expression. It can affect the nervous system, which in turn, effects just about the whole body. Manage your stress well; meditation, movement, exercise, good food, time to yourself – all these things are really crucial. Have a look at your diary, see where you can put in microbreaks to take your foot off the gas every now and again.

Leanne Spencer

This article first appeared in the April 2019 issue of SE22 magazine.