Its spring in our beautiful city. It is so nice to be able to see a gradual reopening and return to living the way we used to, slowly. Unfortunately, the last 2 years has taken its toll on some and stress has been at an all time high for many people.
In fact “I am feeling overwhelmed” or “ I am feeling stressed” is a very common statement I hear in my practice and in my every day life from friends and colleagues. The last few years has been very challenging for all of us. This chronic stress has had an impact on many of us. In this article I am going to discuss some lifestyle strategies that may help to reset your stress response.
Stress can be defined as the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with pressure (1) It occurs when something causes our system to go out of balance.
The way we perceive stress and the real stress our body is under may be different, but our body responds in the same way. Real stress could be a lack of sleep, a car accident, a real threat or danger. Perceived stress could be how we feel about our work environment, our home life, stress we may be anticipating but has not happened yet. Our body responds in the same way to real and perceived stress. You can learn more about your perceived stress and get your PSS score HERE
Cortisol is one of the hormones released by adrenal glands in response to stress. It is also released when our blood sugar drops, when we exercise, when our mind is racing. Physiological changes occur in our body in response to this release of cortisol. The body gets ready to fight or run away from this stress. This part of our nervous system is called the sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) This is our Move, Go, Stress state.
The Parasympathetic Nervous system (PNS) is our relaxed state. It is the opposite of our SNS. This is our calm, rested, relaxed state. This supports digestion, stronger immune system, and healing/ repair of our body.
When stress becomes chronic and we are stuck in the SNS, this is when may notice some changes to how we feel.
The short term effects of cortisol may include;
-a sluggish digestion
– reduced sex hormone response
-a reduced immune response.
Symptoms that may be related to long term or chronic stress include;
-Feeling burnt out, mentally, physically and emotionally
-anxiety, depression, mood imbalances
-chronic digestive disorders that seem to come and go
-blood sugar imbalances, often low blood sugar or hypoglycemia where you may feel shaky, jittery or lightheaded when you miss a meal or space meals too far apart
-getting frequent colds or flu
-menstrual irregularities including worsening PMS, irregular periods, heavy periods
-weight gain (increased abdominal fat ) or weight loss
-poor sleep, interrupted sleep or insomnia
When the stress response is out of balance you may experience some of the symptoms I have mentioned above. There are some great lifestyle strategies that may help to reset your stress response and help you feel better! The goal is to experience a better mood, feel less anxious, improve your energy, improve your sleep, balance your blood sugar and reduce that burned out feeling.
Number one; ask yourself what is creating stress to your system? Are you sleeping well? Are you sitting at a desk all day? Are you exposed to chemical toxins at home or work? Do you eat regular meals?
Try to incorporate some of these easy lifestyle management strategies into your daily life. Your body and your adrenals like routine. Try to make some of these changes a part of your daily routine:
1. Meditation / breath work first thing in am and before bed to activate your Parasympathetic or calming nervous system.
2. Go for a walk outside in the morning; studies show exposure to light in the morning resets our circadian rhythm for cortisol, melatonin and other hormones
3. Balance your blood sugar! Choose a healthy breakfast balanced in protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates. This will help to maintain your blood sugar throughout the day.
4. Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night
5. Include exercise into your daily routine. Our cells need oxygen to produce energy and function. Exercise is a great way to improve your mood, improve mental clarity and improve oxygenation of your cells.
If you suspect chronic stress may be affecting your overall quality of life or has resulted in some of the symptoms I have listed above, consider testing your adrenal function. The Adrenal Stress Index Test analyzes your cortisol levels during a 24 hour period. From this information, one of our Naturopathic Physicians can work with you to develop treatment strategies to reset your stress response.
Wishing all of you health and happiness. Spend time with loved ones. Find time to relax and enjoy this time in our beautiful city.
Yours in health
Dr Tasreen Alibhai, ND