Stress: are you tired of hearing that word thrown around?
Is stress the ever present factor that is hindering your health?
Especially this last year and a half!
Frankly, we underestimate how stress affects our health.
Today, I am going to talk about ways stress can sneak up on us and manifest as certain symptoms.
Many of my private clients are coming to me with things like exhaustion, weight gain, sleeplessness, PMS or irregular periods and gut dysfunction..... all pointing to the effects of chronic stress.
You perhaps have heard of the term “adrenal fatigue” when it comes to feeing tired, over worked and chronic stress.
The adrenals, which are glands that sit upon the kidneys, are known to secrete important hormones that affect metabolism, stress response, immune system protection, blood pressure. They are probably most famous for their release of cortisol: our stress hormone.
In reality, “adrenal Fatigue” is an incorrect assessment of what is actually happening physiologically. Unless you have a disease called Addison’s, most likely if you are suffering from chronic stress, you are experiencing something called HPA Axis dysfunction.
HPA dysfunction includes the:
Your adrenals don’t typically “give out,” but what does happen is a miscommunication and dysfunction between these three organs. And this leads to many symptoms of chronic stress.
This HPA system is a combo of the endocrine and central nervous systems all communicating with one another in a complex, well designed cascade of feedback loops in response to our internal and external environment.
The body’s designed to respond to stress and then come back to homeostasis easily and smoothly through these hormonal checks and balances system.
It is quite amazing actually, how our system works to handle stress.
But chronic stress is another story.
Chronic stress, over time, hinders this HPA Axis function, because this system gets constant bombardment and can over time, have trouble bringing the body back to homeostasis.
How do I even know if I am truly experiencing chronic stress?
We are all so used to the daily grind/anxiety/ stress loop, it is almost hard to take a step back and see how much stress we are putting our body through.
Signs you are chronically stressed and may have HPA Axis dysfunction:.
You Are Constantly Tired
Do you feel like you are always tired, no matter how much sleep you get or caffeine you consume?
If fatigue is becoming a problem, it might actually be from your emotional stress. Stress has an accumulation affect.
Overtime, your cortisol levels may become chronically low, which makes your body unable to respond appropriately to stressors. That is when you do not have enough energy to complete even the most basics tasks in your day.
So, stress doesn’t always equal high cortisol. Sometimes we can have low cortisol output, or low bioavailable cortisol.... there are many nuances here, that is why I test, don’t guess.
Your Mood is Unpredictable
Are you moody AF, snap at others easily, or never know what kind of response you're going to give your pesky teenager?
When your brain is handling too many thoughts (a never-ending to-do list), coupled with possible hormonal imbalance and gut inflammation., it has a huge effect on your mood.
Underlying emotions including feelings of overwhelm, frustration, anxiety can lead to extreme moodiness.
In Chinese Medicine, the Liver is in control of the smooth flow of Qi (chi) and when our energy is “stuck,” we can feel angry, have painful periods, and headaches. Someone with a hot temper in Chinese Medicine is looked at as having stagnant liver qi!
Your Anxiety is Getting Worse
Chronic stress leads to increased anxiety in some. Anxiety can be amplified, due to the gut/brain connection, when there are factors like leaky gut, microbiome pathogens, and general inflammation. The act of feeling anxious is a stressor on the body, leading to the overall stress load.
You Feel Cloudy-headed and Lack Focus
Lastly, you might be experiencing brain fog, lack of focus, poor concentration, slow thinking and lack of motivation, all which are indicators of stress.
Eating the wrong foods, too many carbs/sugar/alcohol and ignoring food sensitivities can lead to feelings of brain fog.
In addition, nutrient insufficiencies and mineral imbalances can make brain-fog worse.
Even some gut bugs like H Pylori can contribute to brain fog.
What to Do about Stress? This is a HUGE topic, because there are ALL kinds of stressors:
Environmental: hidden stressors like toxins, water, mold, chemicals, heavy metals
Dietary: food causing inflammation and/or blood sugar levels
Situational: things beyond your control
I usually go in depth with clients during coaching sessions about how to mitigate all of these stressors.
Some Stress Relief Basics:
Implement time each day for electronic-free stress relief, meditation, breath-work, and/or fun outdoor things you enjoy.
Engender a mindset of positivity and staying away from negative news, people and environments
Dial in good sleep hygiene (7-9 hours!)
Exercise in the RIGHT amounts: not too much or too little
Investigate clinically other hidden bio stressors
TEST DON"T GUESS!
We can test for:
HPA Axis/cortisol levels
Blood sugar levels
Microbiome in the gut
Nutrient levels/mineral levels
Sex hormones and pathways/metabolites
I find that seeing your stress laid on paper in these lab results, can not only give you answer to WHY you aren’t feeling your best, but also act as motivation for change!
In my early 40’s I was burning the candle at both ends.
Teaching over 30 hours a week, single mom life, dating, social life, etc.
Busy, happy, but also drained. And starting to feel like I was losing my marbles.
I always, I mean ALWAYS needed a nap every afternoon. Sometimes, it took me hours to recover from that nap
I went to bed too late. Woke up really early.
One time I got a flu-like bug and was sick for a month. I just needed a break!
Fast forward a year later, when I had the same lifestyle, but add in Functional Diagnostic Nutrition School! I took a cortisol and sex hormone urine test. It measured my cortisol, both free and metabolized, over the course of an entire day.
What I found out about my stress levels astonished me.
I was hardly making ANY cortisol. Completely depleted.
But: I also wasn’t clearing my cortisol. I had too many “boots on the ground” ready to pounce, even though my overall production was very low, I had too much "free" cortisol, especially first thing in the morning.
Well, this explained my persistent morning anxiety AND my exhaustion every afternoon.
My cortisol pattern was also indicative of low thyroid function!
So, I ran a FULL thyroid panel on myself and lo and behold, I had low thyroid markers!
I was not officially “hypothyroid” by western doc standards, however, I was on the low end of ideal, "functional" ranges.
I had work to do! I did NOT want things to get worse!
Here are the changes I made immediately:
Added a morning walk to “use up” the excess high cortisol I was experiencing in the morning.
Added Celtic sea salt to every glass of water I drank (1 pinch per liter of water)
Increased my magnesium at night
Went to bed before 10:30pm, no exceptions
Stopped taking early morning clients.
Over about 6 months, I completely unleveled my energy.
Sleep, stress reduction and adequate salted water was my priority. And it worked!
I hardly ever need a nap anymore. I was able to pivot feelings of anxiety. And I have great energy on most days!
And my labs are much better!
I now help clients deal with their stress pattern in an actionable, meaningful and powerful way.
Are your ready to investigate the hidden stressors that are hindering your health and weigh loss progress?
Click here to schedule a complimentary clarity call with me to discuss!