Underpaid? Missed bus? Morning alarm? Forgot about your packed lunch? Can you guess the feeling? Yep, that’s right! Agitated, hungry and stressed!
We may not realise this but stress is part of our daily lives. No matter how much we avoid it, we just can’t. Avoiding stress itself is already stressful right? Unfortunately, it is associated with everything we do, good or bad, happy or sad.
Once we sense threats, danger, fear and other overwhelming feelings, our “fight-or-flight” response kicks in. This kind of repetitive stress is harmful to us, because no organism was designed with a mechanism to deal with the negative effects on the body when the stress response is turned on with great frequency and for a long duration.
The consequence of chronic stress in the body can be compared to the domino effect. You know, when you have perfectly positioned dominos with each other and if one falls… it’s game over. Everything will follow. That is exactly what happens inside our body when we’re stressed.
Yes, a specific nutrition plan is important and so are supplements when trying to heal from a particular issue but if you’re not managing your stress levels, you’re not going to get very far.
HOW STRESS AFFECTS YOUR BODY:
If we sense a “threat”, whether it is bumping into our not-so-friendly ex at the grocery store or freak out in traffic or worry about something in the upcoming future, the hypothalamus in the brain receives the signal. This is the starting point for the release of cortisol.
The brain’s protective barrier becomes leaky under chronic stress and as a result becomes vulnerable to inflammatory proteins.
High, prolonged levels of cortisol have also been shown to shrink the hippocampus, which can then cause a wide range of issues, including depression and anxiety.
Cortisol levels play a key role in regulating sleep as well. This is important because if you suffer from low quality sleep, whether it is waking up at night or struggling to fall asleep, it could actually be due to your cortisol levels being out of whack.
Remember, you could be doing everything right but if you’re not sleeping well, you will not tap into the repair and rejuvenation mode that takes place during deep sleep.
When we turn on that “fight or flight” response, a number of changes begin to take place in the body: our heart beats faster, blood vessels contract and the muscles begin to tense up. It’s not time to relax, it’s time to fight or flee.
Overtime we begin to get tension headaches and backaches as a result.
4. Digestive system
The “fight or flight” response will also temporarily stop digestion so the body can focus on fast action.
You might then experience bloating, nausea, constipation, or loose stools because digestion is not functioning optimally. You’ll also have reduced stomach acid, so now you’re more prone to bacterial overgrowth and acid reflux!
5. Weight gain
When your body perceives any stress, it brings more glucose into the blood to give us energy to “fight or flee” for survival.
This means that you can actually spike your blood sugar even if you’re fasting and you will not burn body fat. The same applies to coffee because it can increase cortisol secretion and thus spike blood sugar. So if you’re fasting intermittently, having a cup of coffee in the morning might break your fast. You can test it yourself using a glucometer at home!
Cortisol plays a huge part in fertility problems. It causes irregular menstruation or the disruption of normal ovulation for women and erectile dysfunction for men.
The shrunk hippocampus in the brain can disrupt the ovulation process because it stops sending the right hormone message to the pituitary gland.
7. Sex drive
Elevated levels of cortisol will also lead to lower levels of testosterone and this hormone plays an essential role when it comes to sex drive.
MANAGING CORTISOL LEVELS:
Now we know that stress can be one of the root causes issues of health problems and if one body system malfunctions, everything will follow. So you have to be careful, as simple stress that you encountered today can pile up and cause a harmful effect on your body no matter how healthy you are.
You may eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and take vitamins but at the end of the day, those are not enough if your cortisol levels are raging. You can order an at-home saliva test to check your cortisol and, based on the results, I can provide recommendations tailored to your needs.
As an integrative health practitioner, I help people rebalance their cortisol levels naturally through supplementation, nutrition, and lifestyle. My membership programme Synergised Nutrition provides you with daily practices that will help you maintain balanced cortisol levels.
Managing stress and cortisol levels can’t be done with the snap of a finger but if there’s proper guidance from professionals, you’ll eventually get there!
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