How Does Stress Affect Your Metabolism?


Did you know that your metabolism can be affected by stress? Most people think that their metabolism increases during stressful times, but actually it has the opposite effect for most people.

Some amount of stress is “normal”, and actually encourages your body to produce the appropriate amounts and types of chemicals to keep in a state of equilibrium. When your body is in balance, you will occasionally produce stress chemicals (hormones) to handle the stress and then your body goes back to normal. This level of physiological stress is typical, and one’s metabolism isn’t greatly impacted for any length of time.

The state that many of you find yourself in, however, is not a “normal” amount of stress. You may experience heightened stressors in your home environment and/or work or school environment. These stressors are ongoing and unfortunately, some of them aren’t controllable by you. Added to the outside stressors are the ones that are controllable by you, but often are the worst offenders when it comes to the amount of stress chemicals you produce. Why are they the worst offenders? Because they are happening all the time, instead of occasionally. If stress chemicals slow down your metabolism, wouldn’t you want to lessen them if you could?

A quick lesson in physiology:

As humans, we have an autonomic nervous system (beyond our conscious control) that regulates our internal organ system (heartbeat, lung function, brain, etc). The two sub-parts of this autonomic nervous system are the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. In very general terms, the sympathetic one causes us to “act” where the parasympathetic one causes us to “relax”. Another way to look at them is “quick response” and “slow response”.

Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system and our “fight or flight” response. Stress de-activates our parasympathetic (relaxation) nervous system. It makes sense, for example, if you are being chased by a saber-tooth tiger, you would want your “fight or flight” response to kick in to save you from being eaten.

During “fight or flight”, your body produces a surge of cortisol, a stress hormone, as well as insulin. Both of these hormones accelerate fat storage. The movement in your intestines slows down (your body isn’t interested in digestion when a saber tooth tiger is after you). Blood flow to your gastrointestinal tract drastically slows down. There is a significant decrease in your digestive enzyme production, as well as a decrease in thyroid hormone production. Healthy gut bacteria die off, and you excrete essential minerals and vitamins. There’s an increase in inflammation and a decrease in oxygen. In a nutshell, when you are in a constant state of stress, or “fight or flight”, your metabolism slows down.

What does all this mean for you?

Ask yourself 2 questions:

1.      Where am I creating my own unnecessary stress?

2.      How can I lower the stress that I have created?

Are you too hard on yourself? Are you taking on too many responsibilities that you don’t need to? Are you not speaking up for yourself? Are you taking on others’ stresses as well as your own? Are you speaking negatively to yourself?

Studies show that NEGATIVE SELF-TALK is a tremendous controllable stressor. This is an unnecessary stress that will have an enormous negative effect on how you digest and assimilate your food. If you are “trash talking” yourself all day long, beating yourself up for anything and everything that you do, you are hurting yourself in an unconscious physiological way, and slowing down your metabolism.  How many of you say things like:

·        I’ll only be happy when I lose weight.

·        I am disgusting.

·        I hate my body.

·        Everyone else is skinnier than me.

·        I suck.

·        I’m worthless.

·        I’m a loser.


On the other hand, if you REDUCE OR STOP some of your controllable stressors and trash self-talk, AND attempt to add pleasurable things into your life like:

·        sense of purpose

·        healthy connections/relationships

·        sense of belonging

·        spirituality

·        healthy hobbies

·        relaxation

·        quality, enjoyable food and drink

·        sunshine

·        POSITIVE (or neutral) SELF TALK

You will have a positive effect on your overall well-being, you will dramatically reduce your physiological level of stress, and you will effectively increase your metabolism.

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2 thoughts on “How Does Stress Affect Your Metabolism?

  1. Donna: Your blogs are always so helpful — professionally and personally. Here’s to stress reduction. Carole D

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