Anyone remember that cheesy commercial spot from Arrid Deodorant that ran back in the early 2000’s?
“Stress stinks, Arrid works.”
As cheesy as it was, if you’ve ever been stressed, you know all too well that it does stink.
And, let’s face it,the majority of us experience an enormous amount of stress throughout our lifetimes—multiple times in any given day: pressures and problems at work, relationships, finances, family events and issues, death of a loved one, life changes or transitions, mounting to-do lists (and so little time), demands from others, illness and disease…need I go on?
Stress is most definitely a part of life, and if we don’t manage it appropriately, it can (and does) wreak havoc on our health.
Interestingly enough, NPR recently took a survey of 2,500 adults from around the country, reporting that the number one, top stressor in people’s lives had to do with their health: Poor health condition.
It’s a double-edged sword!
You get stressed about work and deadlines. In turn, you start working later hours, eating poorly (not taking the time for meal prep) and forgoing your workouts. So then you start experiencing headaches, sugar handling issues, fatigue, stubborn weight gain, increased blood pressure. Now, you're feeling stressed about your health—how you are feeling…and the beat goes on. It becomes a perpetual cycle that keeps you feeling less than your best.
The culprit behind this all? YOUR HORMONES.
While stress is often thought of as a strictly emotional and mental problem, it has a host of physiological effects on your body as well.
Stress wreaks havoc on your hormones. And since your hormones are the “signaling molecules” that guide and regulate the organs responsible for your physiology and behavior, when these get out of whack your body (and your health, sleep, training, digestion, energy levels, etc.) get out of whack.
In short: Chronic stress leads to hormone imbalance, namely within our adrenal glands.
The adrenal glands are the two walnut shaped glands that are located on top of our kidneys, where they act as small command centers, responsible for producing (or overproducing) our stress hormones.
If treated right (i.e. stress management), they help us to have a healthy – sometimes lifesaving – stress response when needed. For example: exercise is a stressor to our bodies they help us handle when we are in the middle of training, and then "calm down" post workout during recovery...Or if your fire alarm goes off in the middle of the night, they get you going to get you out the door, away from the fire.
However, if the adrenal glands are overworked or overstressed, time and time again beaten down without much recovery, then that healthy stress response capability becomes unhealthy.
Unfortunately, thanks to the overstimulation of stress in our lives today, these little glands can only handle so much.
Common stressors often cited amongst those within the fitness community include:
- Lack of sleep/quality sleep
- Overtraining & overreaching
- Poor food quality choices (Packaged, processed foods, such as running off of bars, shakes, frozen meals, etc.)
- Sugar and caffeine consumption/dependence
- Trying to keep up with demands and expectations (from ourselves and others)
- Poor digestion and food hygiene (eating food to fast, eating wrong foods that don’t agree with your body)
- Lack of water intake
- Emotional stress
- Burning a candle at both ends
- Trying to be all things to all people
- Lack of downtime/you time
- Emotional/social disconnectedness
- Fatty acid deficiencies
- Sugar-handling dysfunction
- Toxins in your home or environment
…Just to name a few.
When our stress levels reach their upper limit, the results are not pretty—particularly for your cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
Cortisol has a huge
range of functions in the body, including controlling metabolism, affecting insulin sensitivity, affecting the immune system, controlling blood flow, digestion, blood sugar regulation, sex hormone balance, wound healing, electrolyte balance, sleep and wake cycles, mood and more. It helps keep things running and promotes balance, as well as copes with any stressors your body may face throughout the day.
When you are super stressed though, your body—and cortisol levels—shifts away from focusing on all of these functions and the regulation of homeostasis in your body (the ability to "bounce back"), into only the most important functions: SURVIVAL.
The extreme rise, or extreme decrease, in your cortisol levels basically takes away from your body’s balance
and optimal function, leading to:
- Poor digestion
- Impaired sex hormones (low progesterone, low testosterone, low estrogen, etc.)
- Decreased immunity/increased illness
- Decreased reproductive function/low libido
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Headaches, dizziness and brain fog
- Poor recovery from workouts
- Lack of growth/muscle gain
- Difficulty with fat loss/weight loss
- Mood changes
- Loss of periods (amenorrhea) or heavy periods
- Higher incidence of allergy
- Muscle pain/twitching
- Skin issues like acne, eczema and psoriasis
Yes. Stress stinks, and chances are at some time or another, you are going to experience it in your life.
So what are you going to do about it?
There are several fairly simple and straight-forward (pro-active) steps you can take towards healing. A few include:
- Drinking enough water: At least half your bodyweight in ounces
- Eating real food, avoiding packaged/processed foods
- Carving out time for yourself—outside of work and to-dos
- Making healthy exercise a priority and balancing your training with yoga, walking, hiking, or playing
- Aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep per night
- Avoid using harsh chemicals in household cleaners and beauty products
- Taking a probiotic for promoting healthy gut flora and the assimilation of all your nutrients
- Taking a fermented cod liver oil for reducing oxidative stress in the body.
However, if you are wanting to take it to the next level, an individualized approach is always best for meeting you where you are, and getting you to where you want to be.
A nutrition therapy consult can help you begin to pinpoint and address the lifestyle factors, potential nutritional deficiencies, hormone imbalances, digestive disturbances and other factors leading to the impacts that stress has taken on your body.
Dr. Lauryn Lax works one-on-one with Central Athlete clients to help them thrive in their own lives through an in-depth, individualized plan of care.
To find out more about setting up a free in-person or distance consult, contact Dr. Lauryn at Lauryn@MeantToThrive.com.