Could stress be wreaking havoc with your body?
Find out here.
Your body is designed to handle a great deal and humans are primed to be resilient and to bounce back after adversity, but there is only so much your body can take before it begins to falter. At which point, this may be known as ‘adrenal dysregulation’ or ‘HPA axis dysfunction’ frequently referred to as ‘adrenal fatigue’
The hypothalamus located in the brain controls your stress response. The pituitary gland is located at the back of the brain and the adrenal glands sit above the kidneys.
Together, the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal (HPA) axis acts as the body’s central stress response system.
Lifestyle and food choices are important factors on how the HPA axis deals with stress
Signs your body is under pressure:
Signs of HPA axis dysregulation are widespread and may include any of the following:
- Bone Loss
- Chronic Fatigue
- Craving salty foods
- Decreased immunity
- Early onset perimenopause/menopause
- Fatigue (especially in the morning or after a stressful event)
- Hot flushes
- Low blood pressure
- Memory loss
- Panic attacks
- Poor concentration
- Sleep disturbances
- Weight loss
- Weight around midsection
Fight or Flight?
The brain still reacts to acute stress today as it did when cavemen were hunting. Humans that encountered a predator had two options: to run or to fight. Stress hormones enable the body to do that. They can cause the blood sugar to rise, providing the energy required for physical exertion.
From an evolutionary point of view, the physical stress response is perfectly designed to put the body on alert in case of imminent danger and to mobilise the energy required to escape.
But this is meant to be a temporary measure and if acute stress persists, the systems become exhausted and the body remains in a permanent state of activation.
Many people feel stressed all the time. After all, there seems to be a continuous number of reasons to worry: a pandemic, climate change, job losses, health
threats, debt, and loneliness, to name but a few.
Worry can trigger the stress response just as if the event was actually happening.
With a constantly activated HPA axis, you may be left with high blood pressure, high blood sugar, palpitations, sleep disturbances, depression, and tiredness. On top of that, you are more vulnerable to infection, inflammation and disease.
With so many factors that play a role in HPA dysfunction, doing something about it can also seem overwhelming – another task to add to your to-do list. By the same token, you won’t be much good to anyone if you are constantly exhausted – or worse, because you are completely run down.
Schedule some daily me-time- like it is an important event in your diary. Do something you do just for your own pleasure. Whether that’s reading a novel, painting, a quiet cup of tea in the garden, a soak in the bath. Learn techniques to direct your mind and body away from stress and into a restful state.
Your body needs you to sleep in order to recover and repair and 7 – 8 hours is ideal for most people. Lack of sleep promotes inflammation, disrupts the HPA axis, increases appetite hormones and may be a driver of disease.
Start with a lovely ritual which includes turning off your phone and computer at least one hour before going to bed. Get into the habit of having a lovely Epsom salt bath in the evenings and perhaps add some relaxing lavender essential oil. Ensure your bedroom is a comfortable temperature and nice and dark. Perhaps invest in lovely silk eye masks if your room is too light.
Exercise increases your feel-good hormones – endorphins – and improves mood, reduces anxiety and depression, burns that excess sugar and oxygen circulating in your system, and improves sleep quality. Exercise may also increase body temperature, blood circulation in the brain. It even impacts the HPA axis and thus increases your resilience to stress.
Eat the right food
What you eat matters. Everything that happens in your body is ultimately chemistry. The chemicals involved are the nutrients that come from your food, and your body can only work with what you provide – or not.
You would not expect a petrol car to run on diesel. In the same way, the human body cannot function with a diet based on ultra-processed foods packed with sugar, salt, trans-fats and extra ingredients you cannot pronounce. The body just wasn’t made for that and needs proper fuel. Fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, eggs, seafood, herbs and spices have worked for humans for millennia. That’s a sign.
Once you have put the above suggestions into practice – one by one, so that no new stress ensues – you are likely to feel considerably better. The longer you stick to the plan, the more you will feel the benefits