Think stress is just in your head? This is how stress affects your body

Think stress is just in your head? This is how stress affects your body

Psychological stress is a biochemical process that takes place in the head. It is triggered by an imbalance between the demands of the outside world and one’s own ability to meet those demands. Stress therefore arises from within the person rather than from outside. Here you can find out exactly how stress affects your body and what you can do about it.

Stages of a typical stress response

Stress is a primal response of the human body, which has ensured our survival, since prehistoric times. Our ancestors used stress as an early warning system in order to be able to react instinctively to dangerous situations. This is known as fight or flight. A stress reaction is triggered in the body. This has been the same since ancient times and can be divided into 4 stages:

1. Alarm A stress signal is picked up and processed by your body via the central nervous system
2. Readiness of the body Your blood pressure and therefore your pulse increases. The production of the body’s own stress hormones increases and is increasingly released. All muscles in the body are on standby and tense – increased alertness. Your body generally assumes a dangerous situation (in the past, for example, the saber-toothed tiger)
3. Resistance (physical) and resilience (mental) After the stressful situation, your body can return to its original state (relaxation). All values normalize again. It happens physically as well as mentally. However, resistance and resilience can be lost with too much and too constant stress – more on that later
4. Exhaustion The body becomes tired and needs an increased regeneration time

What is stress?

Think stress is just in your head? This is how stress affects your body

We have all experienced various stressful situations in life. You too have probably noticed that there are many different types of stress. Some are short lived and only last a moment, others are long-lasting and occupy you for several hours. There is negative stress, but there is also positive stress. You can find out here what exactly the different types of stress are all about.

The different types of stress

Eustress Distress
Positive stress Negative stress
Short-lived, unique Long-lasting, repetitive
Alternation between stress and relaxation phases No relaxation phases or only rarely
Helps you to increase your performance Has a rather performance-reducing and blocking effect
Motivating, challenging, increases performance Overwhelming, exhausting
“Adrenaline Stress” “Cortisol Stress”

Become stronger through stress

The transitions between eustress and distress are fluid. Experts are convinced that humans can convert any stress that hits the body into something positive. So you can learn from any stressful situation and come out stronger. You decide for the most part for yourself whether a situation is perceived as eustress (positive) or distress (negative). That is, through the attitude with which you approach the situation. If you approach the situation with motivation and belief that you can cope with it, and the result is right in the end, then you can draw positive effects from the situation and increase your performance.

“You learn from every (stress) situation, even if it doesn’t always go as planned”

However, if you believe from the start that the situation is overwhelming and that you will not cope with it, then the effect is clearly negative for your body. If you only use the positive effects, the stress helps you to become more efficient and to develop a lower feeling of stress. Of course, this effect cannot be applied to every situation. An accident shouldn’t be compared to a competition or an interview. In addition to positive effects, you can also strengthen your “backbone”. You can train the resistance and restoration of your hormonal balance. The more resistant you are, the less stress you expose your body to.

“You can train your resistance and restoration of your hormonal balance”

Stress then vs now - typical causes

Stress make you fat unhealthy

Over time, the form that these daily stressful situations take has changed for us. While humans used to have to flee from bears, the enemy is now our busy everyday life especially the psychological pressure: office, family, social media , hobbies and sports leave little room for relaxation.

People have become more and more perfectionist and self-critical over the years. Weight, food and appearance are particularly critical issues in today’s society and are associated with a lot of stress.

“Mental stress often arises from the enormous social pressure”

Symptoms and consequences of stress

Stress symptoms and consequences

Inparticular, long-term, constant stress has consequences for the body. But when does it become dangerous and what can happen if the stress level is too high? We have summarized the important symptoms and consequences in a table.



  • Cardiovascular problems and common diseases like metabolic syndrome or diabetes as well as chronic fatigue (loss of function of the adrenal gland)
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Due to the chronic exhaustion, the motivation to move decreases considerably (tonic dopamine level), which reduces energy consumption accordingly (= metabolic performance). This is a common cause of weight gain and mental illness such as depression
  • Inner restlessness and tension (neck tension and back pain)

Fat because of stress?

Stress stages of stress response

Weight gain and stress can be closely related. The body’s hormonal balance is very sensitive and can be thrown off easily. The number of overweight people and people struggling with weight problems has increased in recent years. This is not only due to the fact that there are so many delicious treats, but also because of the high level of stress that people are exposed to almost permanently nowadays.

Stress can drive you into the following cycle:

  1. Loss of insulin receptor function
  2. Schlechtes Blutzuckermanagement, sinken des Dopaminlevels
  3. Decrease in motivation to move and in energy use, poor sleep
  4. Increased appetite
  5. Fat and sugary foods are consumed, but cannot be procesed properly because the blood sugar management is destroyed

Solution: Leave out sugary and fatty foods consistently, if you break part of the chain you have a good chance of getting out of the cycle.

Why you are gaining weight because of stress

The hormone balance is one of the most important prerequisites for losing weight. Your metabolism can only run at full speed when your hormones are optimally balanced. When you are under too much stress, your body sees the current situation as a bad time to run down its “emergency reserves”. Rather, it is a signal for your body that fat reserves should be stored more. Stress is usually interpreted by your body as a threat.

How stress prevents weight loss

In the event of stress, whether psychological or physical, the adrenal cortex increasingly releases the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol ensures that blood sugar levels rise and more glucose can be absorbed by the muscles and the brain. This function of the body helped people in the Stone Age to escape or hunt down dangerous animals. Nowadays, this behavior helps us in a dangerous situation or for example in a sports competition (excitement counts as positive stress).

During a stressful situation, including the release of cortisol, all processes in the body that do not contribute to surviving a dangerous situation are switched off or put on the back burner. This includes digestion and the production of growth hormones. This process has been human’s rescue system since ancient times. Because the level of movement remains unchanged nowadays with everyday stress, the body cannot metabolize the increased glucose provided for the anticipated physical work. The excess energy is then stored as fat. “Stress fat” likes to collect on the stomach in particular.

Fat from stress - a common disease?

Stress does it make fat unhealthy

Today, stress is no longer caused by predators or dangerous situations, but by pressure from our boss, deadlines, time pressure, perfectionism and much more. These modern reasons for stress have one thing in common – they trigger psychological stress.

Regardless of whether psychologically or physically – they trigger the same described reaction in the body. There is only one type of stress in the human brain. The only difference is that mental stress does not require physical activity / performance.

Another important difference is the duration of the stressful situation. The escape from the saber-toothed tiger may have taken a few minutes. It would have taken 15 minutes of extreme stress and physical exertion to escape from the animal. Today’s “modern” stress is chronic and can persist for years. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but it is always there. Additional stress factors in everyday life also affect the body. This includes artificial lights, mobile phones and harmful emissions. There is therefore the risk of a permanently increased blood sugar level in the body if there is insufficient resilience.

When digestion is on the back burner due to stress, nutrients cannot be digested and processed sufficiently. This can lead to increased food cravings and a bloated stomach. These consequences often lead to poor sleep and thus insufficient regeneration. However, especially in stressful situations, the body needs more regeneration phases in order to reduce stress. As you can see, you are quickly slipping into an unhealthy cycle.

The evil fat on your stomach

Stress-related weight gain can be quickly found on the stomach in particular. This is because most organs are in the mid section of the body and there are a lot of cortisol receptors in that area.

Top stress triggers in daily life

  1. Multitasking
  2. Pressure to perform and dissatisfaction
  3. Permanent availability through digitalization
  4. Improper diet
  5. Lack of exercise

Stress and nutrition

Stress and nutrition

Your diet can support the stress levels in your body, but it can also make them worse. We want to show you how you can help your body reduce stress with the right foods. Healthy nutrition is the be-all and end-all!

Nutrients and stress

Vitamin B
  • Metabolism, nervous system
  • Formation of neurotransmitters
  • Important for serotin formation
Vitamin C + E
  • Protection against free radicals through antioxidants
  • Reduces tiredness
  • Important for muscles and nerves
  • Transmission of stimuli to the nerve cells
  • Energy metabolism
  • Muscle and nerve stimulus transmission
  • blood pressure regulation
Zinc + copper
  • Protection of cells from oxidative stress
  • Mood-enhancing hormone only works in conjunction with B12 B6 and tryptophan

Stress reducing foods

It has been scientifically proven that certain foods have a positive and stress-reducing effect on the body. This is mainly due to the ingredients and their composition in the food. We have put together a list of “anti-stress foods” for you.

Food Stress Reducing Ingredients
Nuts, kernels, seeds Vitamin B, E, Magnesium, Potassium
Green vegetables Calcium, Potassium, Vitamin B
Bananas Vitamin B6, Magnesium, Potassium
Raw cocoa, dark chocolate (min 80% cocoa content) Tryptophan
Oats Vitamin B1 and B2
Salmon Omega 3 fatty acids
Pulses Magnesium, iron, zinc
Meat B vitamins
Berries Antioxidants

Tips - Get rid of stress with a healthy diet

Tips - Get rid of stress with a healthy diet

Stress and a healthy diet are closely related. An unbalanced and unhealthy diet can be stressful for the body, even if you are feeling well. An inadequate diet with a lot of processed foods and ready-made meals prevents the body from absorbing enough essential nutrients. When you’re stressed, changing your diet can make a big difference. An individual nutrition plan will help you. Having healthy foods and “brain food” in the house is a great place to start. It would also be very advisable to put fruits, vegetables, and nuts on your weekly shopping list.

This is how you can seize the day

Tip Effect
Complex carbohydrates

Whole grains, oats, potatoes, fruits, vegetables

Provide an even supply of energy, fibre stimulates digestion, keeps you full and happy for a long time
High quality proteins

cottage cheese, egg, tofu, poultry

Provide important amino acids, which serve as messenger substances for cells in the body
Healthy fats and Omega3

Fish, avocado, nuts

Increases memory and reduces the risk of developing dementia
Plenty of water (including herbal tea) Sufficient fluids ensure good blood circulation and optimal oxygen transport through the body

More tips to reduce stress

More tips to reduce stress

In addition to a healthy and balanced diet, regular everyday routines are also important in order to adequately regenerate and reduce stress. We cannot avoid getting into stressful situations. So it is best to try to turn any stress into positive stress. Use the positive effect and the energy stress can have. Our motivation guide, which you can find alongside other guides and ebooks in our Upfit Shop, can be helpful. We give you a few more pieces of advice with which you can reduce and prevent stress:

  • Get enough sleep, at least 7-8 hours
  • Find a relaxation technique that suits you: yoga, walks, meditation
  • “Refuel” with vitamin D in the sun
  • Get outside in nature, enjoy lots of fresh air
  • Pursue hobbies and leisure activities
  • Daylight (especially in the morning right after getting up)
  • Breathe calmly and evenly
  • Massages
  • Strength training
  • Avoid excessive calorie deficits, no deficits over a long period of time

“Allow your body a break”


Stress can definitely be a reason why you are gaining weight. Since stress is mostly permanent nowadays, the body is in a long-term excess of glucose and cortisol. Because today’s stress is mostly psychological, this additional energy is not used in the form of physical work, such as running for your life. The excess energy is therefore stored in the body as fat.

Yes. A diet with a calorie deficit also means stress for the body because it perceives a lack of food. If you are in a calorie deficit for too long, your body works to compensate for this by, for example, reducing metabolic activity. It is better to prefer a healthy and balanced diet, rather than remaining permanently in a calorie deficit.

Preventing stress is not difficult. In addition to a healthy and balanced diet, there are small helpful routines that can help you prevent and reduce stress:

  • Get enough sleep (at least 7 to 8 hours a day)
  • Pursue hobbies and sports activities that you enjoy
  • Maintain your social contacts (laughter is healthy!)
  • Reduce your social media consumption
  • Don’t be available all the time
  • Build relaxation methods into your day (yoga, meditation)
  • Don’t overfill your schedule! Relax and give your body some rest, try to be present in the day and do things that make you feel good!

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