In his work as a doctor, stress is something that Dr Rangan Chatterjee is very used to seeing: “Stress affects about 80 per cent of what I see every day as a GP and that’s a remarkable statistic.
“Stress is a modern day epidemic, in fact the World Health Organisation has described it as the health epidemic of the 21st century.”
“Every day I see things such as anxiety, low mood, low energy, insomnia, inability to concentrate, hormonal problems, low libido, gut problems such as IBS, even things like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and weight gain. All of these things are seemingly unrelated, but at their root they have stress as a key driver,” Dr Chatterjee explains.
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“The reason is because stress affects every single organ of your body, so managing your stress levels has the potential to improve the function of every single organ of your body. It’s not that all stress is bad,” he says. “And I think it’s really important to to make the clear that a little bit of stress is actually good for us. It helps to perform and be the best version of ourselves.”
“But I think we really need to understand what the stress response is. As we think back to our hunter-gatherer days, if we were being attacked by a predator and needed to escape, a series of physiological processes would kick into gear in your body to help you do just that.
“Those things are very helpful in the short term, but they’re harmful when they become long-term which is what happens today.”
In the short-term, sugar pours into your bloodstream so you can run faster and your blood pressures goes up to supply your brain. Your emotional brain also goes onto high alert to protect you from danger. “Now, that’s brilliant if you’re running away from a tiger,” says Rangan.
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“Now if you’re getting stressed out day in day out, not because you’re being attacked by a predator, but because your email inbox is overflowing, you’ve got competing demands at work, you might have elderly parents that you’re looking after, you’ve got to get home from work to take the kids to their after school club… these are all stressors, that actually cause the same problems to happen and the same reactions in your body.”
This release of sugar into your blood stream due to stress can lead to fatigue, weight gain, high blood pressure and ultimately type two diabetes.
Listen to the podcast to find out more about the science of stress and how you can manage your stress levels.
Dr Rangan Chatterjee (photo by Susan Bell)
Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s new book, The Stress Solution, is on sale now in the UK. Published by Penguin Books priced £16.99.