We all deal with stress, each day, in varying amounts. Some people are better able to physiologically handle stress, and so they are not as susceptible to its effects. The rest of us tend to start accumulating belly fat, develop symptoms of depression, and possibly acquire health issues such as diabetes.
The Hidden Causes of Daily Stress
Most of us think that stress is caused by a large and traumatic event like crashing the car, trying to meet the deadline of a project or task, or the death of a loved one. While this is true, these are transitory, impulse types of stress related events. Indeed, these forms of stress can have an effect on you, and in the case of losing a loved one, can even do so for a long period of time. However, they are not the root cause of the types of stress that can lead to gaining weight (belly fat), becoming depressed, or developing diabetes. Take, for instance, the task of waiting for the cable/dish guy to arrive. Unless you have rearranged your schedule so you have absolutely nothing to do, this simple event is a stressor. It causes stress because of the uncertainty involved. You cannot “get into” a project because you do not know when you will be interrupted, and even if you do start working, you will be subconsciously drawn to watching the clock, and listening for the knock on the door.
This type of uncertainty caused stress is present when you take your vehicle in for repairs, when you visit governmental offices like the DMV, and when you go to the doctor’s office. Even though you know there will be waiting time, your planned schedule of events for the day are in limbo until this single event has ended. Another form of daily stress is the “drop-in” and “chance meeting”. There you are, ready to mop the floor and do the laundry, when the doorbell rings. Why it is Uncle Lue, or your best friend Sally dropping by to say hello. While you enjoy their company, you are, once again, clock watching. Not only that, but in between dialog, you are subconsciously rearranging your days tasks because of the unplanned delay. How about your trip to the gym. You finished work, and you decide to go directly to the gym. However, just as you get close to the entrance, Jim and his wife drive up and engage you in conversation. After they pull away, you realize that you will either have to skip your work out, or try to rush through it in order to make it home in time to have dinner with the family. Hidden stress can be caused by office politics, problems with a child, tension between you and your spouse, dealings with the landlord (or tenant), computer problems, and so on. In fact, there are many day-to-day events that can be hidden sources of stress.(1)
How Stress Causes Belly Fat, Depression, and Diabetes
Stress releases a nasty little hormone known as cortisol. This hormone causes a depletion of blood sugar and the cannibalization of muscle tissue in order to produce the amino acid L-Glutamine, which helps the body deal with stress. Your body starts making you crave the foods and nutrients that it requires while coping with stress. In order to rectify the low blood sugar condition, your body tells you to reach for something sweet. It does this because simple sugar is easily converted into glucose, the sugar your body runs on. This is accompanied by a craving for food high in fat. Fat takes a longer amount of time to convert into glucose. Fats are used to keep energy levels up during times of stress. Continued daily stress leads you to, habitually, consume fat-laden, sugary foods in order to cope with hidden daily stress. As blood sugar rises, a hormone called insulin is released in order to shuttle it into cells to be used as energy. However, once the cells are fed and the glycogen stores are filled, excess blood sugar is converted into fat (belly fat) for later use. Moreover, stored fat will not be used as long as you consume foods that are easily converted into glucose.
Cycling between extremes of blood sugar puts undue stress on the pancreas, the organ responsible for insulin production, and can lead to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance means that the cell’s (insulin) receptors are unable to react to the presence of this hormone in the blood, thereby preventing the cell from using the circulating blood sugar. Type 2 diabetes is categorized by an individual having elevated blood sugar due to insulin resistance. If this condition is left unchecked, people with type 2 diabetes could possibly end up moving to type 1 diabetes, and requiring regular insulin injections.
Depression sets in because of the fatigue caused by stress, and the cycling blood sugar. Additionally, depression is further compounded when the person tries to shed the excess weight and belly fat, and fails. Since these situations are happening without conscious realization, the effects of stress related depression and failing health continues until some serious medical event occurs. Be aware that depression and diabetes can be caused by other means, and stress is not the only instigator of these conditions.
How to Deal with the Hidden Causes of Daily Stress
By reading this article, you have taken the first step. You cannot deal with a problem until it is visible. Now you know what to look for. Only you can tell what situations and events trigger your stress responses, so pay attention to the signs. Once you realize what types of events cause you stress, you can make changes. For instance, if the “drop-in” causes you stress, then you can either inform the person that you are too busy to chat, or start developing the “Que Sera Sera (what will be, will be)” attitude.(2) Additionally, if you know that certain situations make you feel like snacking, bring something healthy. Peanut-butter and a bit of honey (the actual honey, not the candy bar) on some dark-grain bread will satisfy the immediate need for sugar, supply protein, healthy fats, and long burning complex carbohydrates. Moreover, you should consider a form of physical activity that engages the mind and body. Yoga is a perfect example. In order to perform the movements, you must concentrate on the body part(s) involved, and the correctness of the stance. This type of exercise builds the mind-body connection, and allows you to “rule the internal”.
Continued daily stress can lead to the development of belly fat, depression, and diabetes. However, by identifying the source of the stress, and making a few lifestyle changes, you can learn to “rule the internal” and avoid the onset of medical problems caused by the effects of daily stress.
1. Candace Combe, August 2004, Lose that Belly Fat!, Shape Magazine (www.BNET.com)
2. Julie Tolliver Maranan, Lose Your Stress Fat: Blame your Belly in Part on Stress, September 2003, CBS www.moneywatch.com