So why do these things even matter?
Let’s talk about your brilliant body…Your adrenal glands are two little organs that sit atop your kidneys. They produce a small % of sex hormones (more after menopause), manage blood pressure, regulate electrolytes, and respond to stressors. When your brain (hypothalamus & pituitary) senses danger, it tells your adrenal glands to release cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline, setting off a cascade of reactions.
The release of adrenaline results in an increase in heart rate, and loss of CO2, while cortisol signals an increase in blood pressure and release of blood sugar (note this happens independent of food!) These are all part of your body’s alarm reaction and we call this system of communication your HPA axis (Hypothalamus Pituitary Adrenal).
Recognizing high levels of cortisol, your body then works to calm everything down and restore balance. This requires breaking down your own thymus gland, skeletal muscles, skin & amino acids from diet to provide energy. Meanwhile, your body is also working to minimize or halt what it considers non-essential functions such as sex hormone production, digestion, thyroid function, and in turn metabolism.
First, I want you to see that this whole process is intended to help protect you from what it thinks is dangerous. And, that it goes to a LOT of effort to keep you safe, including breaking down your own tissues for support.
What your brain recognizes as stressful is going to be different from person to person, and for you from day to day. What’s more, this whole reaction might even be triggered from an activity that you consider healthy but your body is overwhelmed by.
Remember, all stress translates to the same process in your body-it does not matter whether your stress is coming from lack of sleep, over exercising, or just being a parent.
Here are some of the more common effects of stress that I see in practice:
What does this translate to symptomatically?
I want you to remember that your body’s response to stress is designed to HELP and protect you in the SHORT term. Many of the immediate effects are your body’s way of taking care of you from danger. But when stress hormones (including cortisol, adrenaline, estrogen, parathyroid hormone, serotonin, and aldosterone) are chronically elevated your body and health start to break down in one way or another.
Most of my clients don’t even realize the different stressors that are affecting their health. And, that no matter where the stress is coming from (poor sleep, undereating, hormone imbalances, your job, trauma, or your family life, for example), it all translates to the same cascade of reactions in your body. So when you hear “stress” as it relates to health, I want you to think bigger than just your busy lifestyle.
By no means do I expect you to address all of your stressors. The last thing we want to do is increase stress by trying to tackle stress. Rather, my goal with this series is that you can recognize the different types of stressors in your life so that you can prioritize where to start.
This series is meant to help you KNOW your stressors, ADDRESS what you can, and become more RESILIENT to the rest.
So here’s my suggestion. Read through this list. Then, pick one, just ONE, and work on that until it feels easier, until you crave how it makes you feel. Then, and only then, can you move on to another.
Katherine Andrew, MPH, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a Masters degree in Public Health with nearly fifteen years of experience in community public health and private nutrition counseling. Her work experience includes individual and group health counseling, interactive workshops, food systems consulting, non-profit program development and management, and safe skin care advocacy and promotion. She works with clients to identify and address health concerns, navigate food sensitivities, explore body image, plan healthy meals for themselves and their families, evaluate and improve hormone health, maximize stress management, and restore their relationship with eating so they can enjoy food and thrive. Gut health, food sensitivities, hormones, family food dynamics, and intuitive eating are a few of Katherine’s passions and specialties.
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