By Claire Georgiou, Reboot Naturopath, B.HSc ND
No matter what the season, life is always busy — there’s work to do, homes to tidy, get-togethers to organize, doctor’s visits to make and go to. The list goes on and on, and this sensation of always running around can lead to stress, particularly if it’s constant or you have big events ahead (like a reunion or wedding).
Unfortunately for many of us living crazy, busy lives, chronic long-term stress can be a major health concern. It was different for our ancestors. In the face of danger, they ran or fought their way out of the situation (if they were lucky). When this occurred, our ancestors’ adrenal glands produced a surge of hormones that stimulated extra sugar to the cells, increased circulation to the muscles and brain, supported clear sharp fast thoughts, stimulated more energy, allowed faster breathing and stimulated the heart to pump faster. Once out of this danger, these hormonal surges normalized and things went back to normal.
But these fight-or-flight responses aren’t necessarily as helpful when you’re staring down a work email as when you’re face-to-face with a lion. And these stress hormones, which are made predominantly by the adrenal glands, can influence weight, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, energy and immunity.
That’s why stress-management strategies are so important. You want to cut down on the release of these hormones by opting to slow down, reprioritize and take control of your life. But before you can try these tactics, it helps to be able to recognize your response to stress.
Here are some stress symptoms that are important to be mindful of:
1. Poor Sleep
People often experience disturbed sleep patterns when they’re stressed:
First off, it’s hard to fall asleep when your mind is racing with thoughts.
Then, you might also experience wakefulness during the night when you wake with catastrophic worries. Have you ever noticed things seem much worse during the middle of the night?
The end result: In the morning, you wake feeling unrested and as though you have not slept at all. You’re wired and tired. This is normally because you slept lightly as adrenalin and cortisol stimulate the body rather than allow rest.
Here are some great ways to help get the best night’s sleep.
2. You Have More Energy Late at Night
This is due to irregular adrenal hormone control. Cortisol becomes more elevated at the end of the day or into the evening rather than earlier in the morning as it should. It’s important to work on relaxing at night and getting adequate exercise and sunlight in the day to help regulate your hormones as well as using stress-management techniques.
3. Catching Every Bug That Goes Around
Long-term immunity gets the back seat in the flight-or-fight response. Plus, poor sleep doesn’t help with your immune system either. This leads to you being more likely to catch every cold and flu you encounter.
Try these natural strategies to support your immune system and avoid getting sick.
4. Chronic Tiredness
Muscle lethargy, aches and pains — even if you sleep a ton, you still don’t feel energized. You may find yourself feeling that even simple tasks (like folding laundry) are a struggle.
This is normally termed adrenal fatigue, and may be caused from excess hormones over a longer period of time that then become suppressed leaving you overly tired all the time.
5. Feeling Irritable, Moody & Frustrated
Stress is often accompanied by other challenging emotions. You may feel anxious or overwhelmed from being flooded with hormones. Long-term stress can also leave you feeling worn out and blue.
6. Poor Digestion
You may experience an array of GI symptoms, incluing constipation, diarrhea, reflux, nausea, dry mouth and feeling as though food is not digesting as it should be. Digestion is not an immediate survival system so blood nutrition and energy are normally sent to other survival organs so our digestion suffers as a result.
7. Rapid Heartbeat, Racing Thoughts, Slight Shaking & Sweaty Palms
In more acute intense stressful times these are indicative of the increase in hormones that pump the heart faster, increase energy and circulation to the extremities and the brain.
8. Intense Carb & Sugar Cravings
Often, people use food to suppress feelings of stress. Refined carbohydrates and sugar have a short term sedative action, while slowing releasing healthy carbohydrates will have a longer sustaining effect.
9. You Have No Libido
Stress has a strong effect on your sex hormone production and reproductive health. Bottom line: When your brain is circling around a stressful situation, it can be hard to switch gears and feel romantic or sexual.
10. Gaining Weight Around Your Middle
Cortisol loves to pad the body out for up and coming stressful situations.
It’s important to learn how to cope with stress. Some strategies include:
Here are more techniques that can help with stress — plus, details on its physical effects. If your symptoms persist, speak to your doctor or health care provider.