Updated: Jul 14
We're all leading incredibly busy lives these days. Whether you work full-time or part-time, care for a family, juggle study, or run a business, stress has become a word that we are all familiar with.
Everyone experiences stress differently. Some people seem to cope when they have a bit more going on in their life, and other people find that very little additional stress can have a big impact on their health. We ARE all affected by it though and often don't recognise the signs.
Let me start by saying that anything that causes your body to produce cortisol (your stress hormone), we categorise as stress. That's just about everything and actually your body is designed to respond this way in short bursts. The idea being that you return to homeostasis, or balance, once the stress is resolved. Great! That works when you run for the bus, your body responds to an acute infection or you are sitting an exam. Things are a bit different, though, when your body is on high alert constantly and gets no chance to relax.
So what causes this?
Being constantly busy and on the go is great - you get lots done right! The down side of this is that your body is pumping out the cortisol from sun up to sun down and this can leave you depleted. As well as this, a busy day often leaves little time to stop and eat a nourishing meal or 'smell the roses'. In fact, because your body is constantly looking for more glucose to keep going, you can end up eating food that's really high in refined carbs, like white breads, pasta, cakes and biscuits. These cause your blood glucose to go up rapidly, giving you a quick of short term energy but lead to a sharper drop or 'fall off the cliff' after a relatively short period of time. You might recognise this as brain fog or feeling really tired in the afternoon. Along with these rapid changes in blood sugar, a diet high in refined carbs also triggers a stress response in your body and the release of more cortisol.
It's not just the effects of stress during the day that are causing harm, often your sleep also gets impacted because you just can't turn off at the end of the day. Oh and lack of sleep also triggers your stress response and leads to that increased cortisol again. The cycle just continues with no chance for your body to rest. There are also chemicals that interact with your nervous system called neurotransmitters and these can either have a calming or stimulating effect. Gamma butyric acid or GABA is needed to calm your nervous system, particularly at the end of the day when you're winding down to sleep. That 'wired and tired' feeling that stops you from getting to sleep can be due to low levels of GABA.
Thoughts can also trigger the same physical stress response and some of us are much more impacted by mental/emotional stress and can experience symptoms such as anxiety and increased worry. The increased production of cortisol that results from this can also cause long term health effects like lowered immune function, weight gain, high blood pressure, IBS and other gut problems as well as chronic fatigue.
If this sounds like you, there are lots of things that can be done. Ensuring your diet contains the micro nutrients needed for your nervous system such as magnesium, zinc, B12 and B6 as well as macronutrients such as protein and good quality sources of fat will improve your body's stress tolerance by regulating your blood sugar and cortisol production. Nutrients such as vitamin B12, zinc and B6 are also vital for production of those neurotransmitters I mentioned earlier.
Learning stress management techniques such as deep breathing meditations are also important and have been shown to reduce cortisol levels in a very short time. In fact, as little as 10 minutes of deep breathing meditation can be effective.
There may also be other underlying causes such as latent infections like glandular fever or a gastrointestinal infection that are contributing to your symptoms. Until these are resolved your health will probably not improve. These can be addressed using naturopathic treatment with specific herbal medicine and nutritional supplementation. In some cases, this may need to be done in conjunction with other medical treatment to gain the best results.
If you'd like to understand more about how stress might be impacting your health, come in and see me for a consultation. I specialise in finding the cause and helping you to get back your vitality.