How Stress Affects Your Body in the Long Run?

Stress

When was the last time you felt stressed? Perhaps not too long ago – we live in a world where we are dealing with chronic daily stressors. You may not even realize the number of stressors in your life or the significant impacts they can have on your health.

The Effect of Stress on the Adrenals

The adrenal glands are two little glands that sit on top of your kidneys. They control your stress response and as a result, can affect almost every system in your body. When your stress hormones are imbalanced, you may find yourself feeling unwell, tired, and irritable.

When it comes to the effects of stress, you are more likely to be familiar with the fight-or-flight response. When you are in danger, your adrenals will kick in and use your body’s resources to help you fight or flee. Nowadays, the stress that we face doesn’t always require us to fight or flee, but your body still uses the same response.

Modern-Day Factors that Can Trigger the Stress Response

  • Emotional stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • High sugar and white flour products
  • Acute and chronic infections
  • Lack of nutrients
  • Trauma
  • Lack of exercise or excessive exercise
  • Fasting
  • Lack of relaxation
  • Overexertion
  • Toxins

When the stress response is activated, we release a hormone called cortisol. This hormone helps us increase our heart rate and blood flow in order to handle the stressor. However, if the stressors are not addressed or removed after a short period, the adrenals are pushed into overdrive. This can lead to burnout and exhaustion. Cortisol is an essential hormone, but when it is overproduced, can lead to miscommunication between the adrenals and the brain. Over time, your body can stop producing enough cortisol, leading to low cortisol instead. Both high and low cortisol levels can have harmful effects on the body.

Signs that Your Body is Affected by Chronic Stress

  • You have low levels of thyroid hormone
  • You are gaining weight around your midsection
  • You catch colds easily and have a difficult time recovering
  • You are quick to anger
  • You are frequently anxious or irritated
  • You experience severe PMS symptoms each month
  • You have trouble concentrating on simple tasks
  • You are tired throughout the day, especially around 2 pm

The stress response is designed to help you get through short-term stressors, though that is rarely the case for most people today. When the stress hormones are imbalanced, normal body functions are not prioritized. This includes the immune and digestive systems. Have you ever noticed that you tend to get sick during periods of stress? Or that your digestive symptoms become worse? It is because when cortisol is not balanced, your body has a difficult time focusing on other functions.

3 Important Steps to Healing Your Adrenals

Incorporate Adaptogenic Herbs

Adaptogens help the body adapt and cope with stress. They help to nourish and replenish the adrenals, whether they are in overdrive or fatigued. Ashwagandha helps to calm the mind, while Rhodiola helps to decrease fatigue. Both are highly studied herbs used to combat the effects of stress. Holy basil is another herb that can be used for extra immune support and reducing anxiety.

 Ashwagandha: Himalaya Ashwagandha 60 Capulets, NFH Ashwagandha SAP 60 capsules, Botanica Ashwagandha 60 Liquid Capsules

Rhodiola: AOR Rhodiola 60 Veggie Caps, Natural Factors Rhodiola 150mg 60 Capsules, St. Francis Rhodiola 50mL

Holy Basil: New Chapter Holy Basil Force 60 Capsules, Living Alchemy Holy Basil Alive 60 Capsules, Organic Traditions Organic Holy Basil Tulsi Tea 200g

Protect Your Bedtime

Sleep is essential for overall hormone health. Your cortisol levels are closely intertwined with your sleep hormone, melatonin. When the sun rises, cortisol should be at its highest, and when the sun sets, it should start to decrease. As cortisol lowers, melatonin levels increase, allowing you to feel tired as you reach your bedtime. However, if you are constantly stimulated by blue light or other activities during your bedtime, you may have a more difficult time keeping your cortisol balanced. Winding down with a book or journaling before bedtime can signal your body to regulate cortisol levels.

Use Relaxation Techniques

Techniques such as meditation and mindfulness are powerful activities that can activate your parasympathetic nervous system (relaxed state) and deactivate your sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight) system. They help your body to release fewer stress hormones when they are not truly needed, so your adrenals can restore themselves. Start by incorporating 5 minutes a day, and slowly increase as it starts to become a habit.

The Importance of Stress-Reducing Habits

Your body is smart and can adapt to some stress. But when the stressor is not addressed, you may find yourself experiencing more signs and symptoms. The goal is not to reduce all stressors, but to equip your body in handling the stress. Healing your adrenal glands takes time and there is no quick fix. Setting up the right habits and support can make a world of a difference!

Author

Grace Tien is dietetics and holistic nutrition grad. She creates sustainable, delicious meal plans to help clients with their health goals. Grace specializes in nutrition for healthy periods, you can find out more at @gracetien.ca on Instagram.

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