Identify and Manage Harmful Stress

Identify and Manage Harmful Stress

You can become used to stress and it may be difficult to identify. Stress is caused by many factors, even positive ones. Read on to find out how to identify stress and take steps to control it.

Author | Annika Havaste


You can become used to stress, and therefore you don't realize you are not recovering from challenging situations. Stress can sneak in little by little and become chronic if your body and mind don't recover enough. Anxiety, fatigue and sleep problems, even tense muscles are all possible signs of prolonged stress.

Stress is the body's primitive fight-or-flight reaction to a dangerous situation. Your body is hard-wired to react and start releasing stress hormones such as cortisol. During this stress response, your metabolism also changes and blood sugar rises to help the body to combat in the threatening situation. The stress response becomes a problem if your recovery back to normal is prolonged and stress becomes chronic.

Your body is not able to distinguish various stress factors but launches the stress response  in a similar way whether the cause is physical or mental.

When blood sugar is high for a prolonged period of time, fat accumulates in the body because insulin stores excessive sugar as fat. It may well be that the muffin top around the waist has been caused by chronic stress.

Stress puts strain on your system, it's a catabolic state. In others words, it's the opposite of an anabolic state where you gain more muscle with a proper diet and exercise.

When stress is prolonged and becomes chronic, it may result in a loss of muscle mass  and fat accumulation. Another indicator is that regardless of adequate resistance & strength training you won't build muscle.

Stress may manifest itself in brain fog, forgetfulness and lack of focus. For the brain to function properly, it needs recovery and rest, and also quality sleep. With enough rest, your judgement is sounder whereas a stressed person is often just reactive.

“The gut doesn't like disturbances, for its well-being it's vital that we rest and recuperate adequately.”

Stress and a busy lifestyle can also cause gut problems, especially if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. Stress affects your gut microbiome, weakening beneficial bacteria, and consequently harmful bacteria can make stress symptoms worse. The gut doesn't like disturbances, for its well-being it's vital that we rest and recuperate adequately.


Obvious causes of stress hardly need any introduction. Negative life experiences and unrealistic demands are stressful. What you don't necessarily realize is the situation where your mental state seems to be excellent but meanwhile your body is battling with stress. A good example is strenuous exercise; apart from stimulating the production of endorphins, it also raises stress hormones. It's far more difficult to identify positive factors causing stress; there may just be too many things happening at the same time. Imagine, for example,  dealing with a house building project and a new job simultaneously.


“What you don't necessarily realize is the situation where your mental state seems to be excellent but meanwhile your body is battling with stress.”


The nervous system reacts to environmental stimuli - an urban environment with continuous hustle and bustle call for some counterbalance from time to time.

A nutritionally poor diet related to low-grade inflammation and a gut bacteria imbalance are also stress factors.


The fewer stress factors the better. However, it's not always so easy to avoid or eliminate them. What matters is to have tools to minimise harmful effects of stress.

When stress hormones are running high,simply take deep breaths.

Breathing. An effective way to calm your nerves down and control stress hormone secretion. And it's there whenever needed. Slow nasal breathing decreases stress hormone levels effectively. In case you need to slow down, take a break and breathe for a few minutes. Sit down in a quiet place, close your eyes, relax your shoulders. Inhale through the nose slowly, letting your belly rise. Hold your breath for a few seconds, then exhale through the nose slowly, further relaxing your body. You can do this only once and find it helpful, but it's recommended to repeat the sequence a few times. To finish, return to normal breathing and take some time to reflect on yourself, how your body feels and to listen to surrounding sounds.

Nature offers great relief from stress. If you don't have access to a forest, go to a park. Quite a few people find reading a book or listening to soothing music helpful. And remember to unplug from all distracting devices.

If stress has become chronic and you are showing clear signs of fatigue or burnout, forget strenuous training and hectic places such as gyms and fitness centres. Instead, choose gentler activities. Your mind may want a hard workout after a hard day but it won't benefit  the exhausted body and mind.



When you are busy or tired, nutritionally balanced meals may not be your priority number one. When stress takes over, it's easy to choose familiar foods, preferably something fatty and sweet. When you become aware of this habit, you can choose better options that support and nourish the body and mind , helping to combat challenging and stressful life situations.



The brain needs lots of quality fatty acids and antioxidants to function at its best. Fill your plate with fish and plenty of vegetables. Berries are an excellent source of antioxidants; a home-made smoothie is a healthy breakfast or snack, and it's quick and easy, too. You can add to the mix for example some cold-pressed oil, seeds, fibre powder and plain protein powder, and you will keep hunger at bay for quite a while.


"When stressed, nourish your brain with blueberries, walnuts, green vegetables, fatty fish (or fish oil) and eggs. Avoid sugar."


As blood sugar will rise with soaring stress hormones, you should be economical with carbohydrates, especially sugar, to prevent blood sugar from rising even more. Also, by maintaining your blood sugar steady, you will feel more energetic. At the same time, you can also prevent stress-related weight gain.

Pick your means to manage stress, eat the right, nourishing foods and you will overcome stressful times much better.