Here’s what I know about the effects of stress on the body. Bear in mind this knowledge is based on what I’ve seen on TV, read in articles and online, and other sources I’ve absorbed by osmosis.
Stress is, in itself, not bad. We need stress to know when things should be changed. Too MUCH stress, for too long, can be bad.
When we are under stress, we experience a fight, flight or defeat response. In anticipation of this, our brains flood our body with adrenaline, cortisol and a host of other hormones in anticipation of having to either fight or run from the perceived danger.
So what does this all mean? Well, in a nutshell…
You experience a stressor. Your body gets flooded with the fight or flight response and hormones course through you so that you can deal with the stressor effectively and quickly.
You deal with the stressor. The hormones revert to their resting state. All is well.
What happens when the stressor doesn’t go away though? What happens when your (in my case) spouse ends up having a life threatening illness and recovery is long, arduous and not guaranteed? What happens when things continue on for a month, 6 weeks, 3 months, a year?
Your body continues to get flooded with the fight or flight hormones and you live in a constant state of stress.
How does this affect your body? In terms of fat loss… it works directly against you.
Cortisol directly effects fat storage and weight gain in stressed individuals. Tissue cortisol concentrations are controlled by a specific enzyme that converts inactive cortisone to active cortisol (9-11). This particular enzyme is located in adipose (fat) tissues. Studies with human visceral (fat surrounding the stomach and intestines) and subcutaneous fat tissue have demonstrated that the gene for this enzyme is expressed more by obese conditions (11). It has also been demonstrated in research that human visceral fat cells have more of these enzymes compared to subcutaneous fat cells. Thus, higher levels of these enzymes in these deep fat cells surrounding the abdomen may lead to obesity due to greater amounts of cortisol being produced at the tissue level. As well, deep abdominal fat has greater blood flow and four times more cortisol receptors compared to subcutaneous fat (8). This may also increase cortisol’s fat accumulating and fat cell size enlarging effect.
And in addition, as my doctor explained, you begin to exhaust your supply of the hormones needed.
In my case, my doctor gave me this test… Are you depressed? type thing. You can google and get any online test. Go to your doctor if you have concerns. At any rate… I said I wasn’t. I have experienced depression. I have been there. This is nothing like it. This doesn’t feel the same.. This…. wait what? Severely depressed? That can’t be right!!!
I looked over the test again. Yep, my answers were all correct. Yep. Severely depressed. WTF?
Apparently when you experience continual high stress for more than a month, the fight or flight becomes defeated and you are then… depressed.
I’ll tell you now… this is happening at the worst possible time. The “crisis” is over, fundraising has been done, friends have gone back to their lives and now I crash, with less support than I had when we were in “crisis” and I’m depressed.
I don’t blame anyone. I’m not upset with anyone. Life happens. Its hard for ME to live with this continually.
But I have no interest in going out, doing anything, exercising, eating (nevermind eating right, I just don’t want to eat).
I have no positive outlook on my personal stuff, all my energy is focused on positive thoughts for my husband’s recovery.
The really stupid thing? Until yesterday, I STILL didn’t feel depressed. Then it crashed down on me. And now I’m in full blown, I don’t want to get dressed or get off my couch depression. FML
The scary thing is that I hide it. Really well. Everyone thinks I’m so strong, and I’m not. I’m not ok. I may look it, but I’m not. (or maybe I just think I look it and I really don’t… who knows?) So most people reading this will be surprised…
I have derby practice tonight. If you know me, or you’ve read my blog, you know I LOVE derby. It makes me feel amazing, I feel strong and powerful and I revel in learning new skills. I don’t want to go. It’s 8am and practice isn’t for 12.5 hours, but I don’t want to go. I don’t have the energy.
Time to try to get back to the self-care crap. Right now, my body is actively fighting me and my efforts to lose weight, maintain a stable mood and function effectively.
And I don’t know that I have the energy to fight it.
This started as a draft blog I’d begun a long while ago about stress & cortisol & viseral fat. Its all relevant to my life right now, but it morphed into depression and loneliness.
All of which are extremely unhealthy… especially in high doses.
If anything I said on depression resonates with you right now… please go see your doctor. While it is tempting to spend a month sleeping in your bedroom.. you may find at the end of the month that you CAN’T come out, regardless of whether you want to.
Edited to add: Yes, I am under my doctor’s care for my depression.