Unfortunately, there is no way to completely avoid situations that may cause you to feel stressed – stress is just a part of life. However, when a person is stressed, their health is often hindered because stress can impact the body in negative ways (right down to a cellular level).
When we experience short-term stress, the body activates its “fight or flight” mode to prepare us to get out of harm’s way. This is an evolutionary response that kept our distant ancestors alive. Today, there are much fewer immediate dangers for most people – however, the stress response has stuck around and can be activated when there is no imminent threat to your life. During short bouts of stress, hormones are released that increase how hard the body works in order to get you out of a difficult or dangerous situation. Your breathing and heart rate speed up, your skin may grow pale or flushed, and your pupils dilate.
When stress is long-term or chronic, the body believes you are in danger a lot of the time. Because of this, you may experience headaches and stomachaches, your blood pressure may increase, and you may have difficulty falling asleep. Many people also experience a depletion of energy when they’re stressed. Read on to learn exactly how stress can influence energy levels.
In short, the answer is yes: stress can significantly affect your energy levels. When people experience acute or chronic stress, their body essentially goes into overdrive, and when that happens, a lot of energy is used. Without adequate rest time or a break from stress, the energy that is being used up will not be restored properly.
The reason energy levels are zapped when you’re under chronic stress is because of the body’s physiological responses. The main system affected by these changes is the hypothalamic pituitary-adrenal system. When this system activates, it does so in various steps.
First, the stressor activates the hypothalamic pituitary axis. This action stimulates the pituitary gland to release a substance known as adrenocorticotropic hormone, which in turn stimulates the release of corticosteroid, or cortisol, from the adrenal glands. When cortisol is produced, glucose is released from the liver.
This hormone release is designed to help the body maintain adequate levels of sugar in the blood so that it’s prepared to take action in response to the stressor, and to return to normal once the stress has passed.
The automatic nervous system is also activated during this time – specifically, the adrenal medulla. The adrenal medulla releases adrenaline, which causes the body to prepare itself to either fight the threat or run away from it. While the automatic nervous system is activated, which prepares the body for better control, the parasympathetic nervous system is reduced so that certain processes within the body are quieted.
This entire reaction occurs quickly after a person experiences stress. When the stress is chronic, these physiological responses affect overall health in various ways.
During bouts of short-term stress, the process described above actually increases your body’s energy for a short period of time so you can be prepared to fight or run away from the potential threat. This short-term boost comes from stored glucose in the liver.
When the stressor has been eliminated, the body rebalances itself back to a normal state. During this time, you will not typically experience any sort of energy loss. It is only when stress is chronic that you will begin to feel your overall energy levels drop.
There are various ways that long-term stress impacts energy levels. One has to do with your metabolic process and digestive system: acute stress hinders the appetite because the body determines that it doesn’t need to feed itself when it is preparing for danger.
However, when stress is persistent, the response that affects your appetite and digestion messes up your entire metabolic process. Not only are you not eating enough to properly fuel your body, your energy metabolism is also under-functioning and not providing you with the fuel you need to get through the day.
Bouts of chronic stress can also make it difficult for you to get proper sleep, and may lead to the development of mental health disorders that can further disrupt the way energy is stored and dispersed throughout the body. When we don’t get enough rest, our energy levels do not have enough time to replenish themselves. During sleep, the molecule ATP is made; this molecule plays a large role in energy levels, and if there isn’t enough of it, you will lack energy.
Because of the various effects that stress has on the body, especially chronic stress, low energy levels could indicate that you have been too stressed for too long. It’s important to manage stress levels to ensure your body stays healthy and your energy levels stay consistent.