Stress is one of those things that is always happening for each of us in the background. It’s relative and each person’s experience of it is unique and valid. Some of us are built for doing well in high stress and high pressure situations, whilst others are so quick to feel overwhelmed that they really have to adjust their entire life to not be consumed by their stress.
Stress is sneaky
Chronic stress is a serious health problem that affects many individuals today, particularly in a world with COVID-19. On-going stress wreaks havoc on your body, mind, and relationships with people around you. Stress can feel extremely unpleasant. The reasons for it are all around us, making things worse. Work, money, safety, family, and even our health can all be causes of stress.
The end result of being in an almost constant state of stress looks like this.
- Poor sleep and frequent waking
- Waking tired and feeling tired in general
- Poor concentration and focus
- Weight gain (especially around the middle)
- Mood issues such as feeling short fused, irritable, angry, anxious and/or depressed
- Diffuse hair loss (typically occurring three months after a major stressful event/injury)
- Digestive problems like excessive burping, reflux, bloating or pain that leads to nutrient deficiencies
- Recurrent respiratory infections
What causes us to be stressed? We’ve already looked at the outward symptoms of stress, but what makes us stressed in the first place?
How stress works
Our adrenal glands are in charge of the stress response and their purpose is to notify us of danger. That’s correct. You may never know when a sabre tooth tiger will chase you down the street! Our brains are preprogrammed for that sort of thing.
When our body detects a stressful situation, it releases adrenaline to handle it. This is a beneficial thing. It makes us more productive and energetic when we need to be. However, excessive adrenaline release to get us through the day, every day, becomes an issue. This leads to physical and mental exhaustion, as well as the problems described above.
The bottom line is that adrenaline is essential and beneficial, but relying on it to get us through the day might lead to long-term issues. That’s why controlling stress throughout the process is so significant.
Are you stressed?
Most people don’t see a link between stress and sleep, mood, energy, immunity or weight management issues. Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine if stress is affecting you.
Is my sleep a problem?
When high stress levels cause a drop in melatonin, sleep is disrupted. Melatonin levels can be low when cortisol levels are high, which is why sleep is impacted.
Am I irritable or short fused?
Adrenaline takes the place of those neurotransmitters, leaving you feeling depleted and unfulfilled. When you consistently experience high levels of adrenaline, it depletes your feel-good and pleasure hormones, serotonin and dopamine, robbing you of the nutrients required to create them.
Do I get coughs and colds often?
If you’re frequently sick, it’s possible that stress is suppressing your immune system. As a result, you make fewer white cells to combat infections. Then when your body stops being stressed your immune system responds with a drop in defence and you experience leisure sickness.
Am I overweight?
If you want to lose weight, it’s important to reduce your cortisol level. High cortisol levels cause blood glucose levels to stay high over time as a result of stress, which causes people with elevated cortisol levels to gain weight. That extra weight is frequently carried around the waistline.
If you checked ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions, it’s worth considering treatment.
How to manage stress
The most obvious solution is to eliminate the underlying cause. Not many of us are prepared to give up our successful careers and busy lifestyles to move to a tropical island. However, there are other strategies you can implement to better manage your stress response.
Some of the do-it-yourself options include;
Ensure that you exercise on most days of the week for at least 30 minutes and incorporate a combination of strength and muscle training in addition to cardio activity. Walking is a great way to get some activity.
Start your day with a high-protein breakfast (such as eggs) and plan to consume carbohydrates later in the day to influence cortisol or protein powder in a smoothie).
This is simply time spent doing little in order to recharge your nervous system and get it into a state of ‘rest and digest.’
Take some time away from the problem that’s causing you stress.
Schedule in some alone time away from work or assistance with caring for young children so you can enjoy it.
Implementing a regular meditation practice, as well as taking time to do activities you enjoy, such as gardening, cooking, or watching movies, all contribute to calm and more balance.
If you’re already employing many of these methods and still can’t manage your stress load then you may want to explore how you are handling stress in more detail then consider testing. Doing a morning blood sample of your cortisol, along with DHEAS and ACTH you will get a clear understanding of where your adrenal reserve sits. This is an excellent way to learn about your present stress levels and develop a personalized strategy for optimising resilience.