Are you unconsciously fuelling your own stress?

Our bodies know how to fix broken proteins, kill cancer cells, retard ageing, fight infection, heal ulcers, make skin lesions disappear and knit together broken bones… BUT none of these self repair mechanisms work if you are stressed!

Stress plays a huge role in all of our lives. Are you stressed because you are gaining weight? Feeling stressed because you can't get pregnant? Or stressed that you are loosing too much weight? Stressed your living life in the fast lane, rather than smelling the roses? Turns out all of these qualms are seriously related.

Your Adrenal glands are 2 precious walnut-sized glands that sit on top of your kidneys. They are small, but powerful when working optimally. Our Adrenal glands produce many hormones, 2 of which are the stress hormones called cortisol and adrenalin. These hormones significantly influence whether we gain or lose weight, therefore we need to understand how to manage them and how they affect our nervous system.

The divisions of the nervous system crucial to weight loss are the sympathetic nervous systems fight or flight responders. When this fight or flight system is dominant (in other words the stressed and rushed system) your body thinks it is in danger.  

Adrenalin is our acute stress hormone, it is designed to save our lives, isn't it ironic that once designed for this purpose it is now having such a detrimental effect on our health. Adrenalin tells every cell in your body that your life is threatened. So if you live life in a rush then this fight or flight response goes into complete over-drive.

The body has two fuel sources – glucose or fat. If the body perceives it is in danger it will access the quickest burning fuel source, glucose.  This is where the sugar ripple effect begins. You crave sugar to help you through, your body burns the glucose from the sugar, then you rapidly crave more sugar. You suffer from major highs and lows, irritability, and constant hunger. If adrenalin is relied upon for too long then we risk increased production of the long-term stress hormone cortisol.

Cortisol then signals body that food is scarce, so ANYTHING consumed must be stored as fat for later. Therefore dieting when cortisol is high is not the solution at all, it can be half the cause!

Signs you have too much cortisol include:

  1. Not sleeping well - cortisol is meant to drop at night time, allowing you to relax and recharge. If too much cortisol, even though tired all day, you will toss and turn at night.

  2. You sleep well, but you're still tired during the day – Your adrenal glands are depleted if cortisol is to high, predisposing you to chronic fatigue. So if you feel like your get up and go has dissolved, you're probably stressed.

  3. Gaining weight around abdomen, even when eating well & exercising – cortisol makes you thick around the middle.

  4. Catch cold and infections easy – cortisol deactivates the body's natural self repair mechanisms, meaning your immune system goes out the window, leaving you vulnerable.

  5. You crave unhealthy foods – Blood sugar is raised when you eat sugary, salty, processed foods, (risking diabetes) high glucose then bumps up your insulin levels, which in turn drops blood sugar again rapidly and all of a sudden you have wild sugar cravings.

  6. Backaches and headaches – When adrenal glands are depleted, prolactin is increased, which increases the body's sensitivity to pain. Excess cortisol hyper sensitizes the brain to pain, even the slightest twinge excites the nerves of brain, causing headaches

  7. Sex drive is caput – cortisol basically is an anti-viagra. Libido inducing hormones (testosterone) drop when stress hormones are high

  8. Gut acts up – The gastrointestinal system is very sensitive to stress. Nausea, Heartburn, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, constipation and anxiety are easily caused form stress.

  9. You feed blue – cortisol suppresses serotonin production. Doom and gloom sets in.

Its important to note that if your cortisol levels are bumped up day after day your adrenal glands (responsible for production of cortisol, get knackered) and the precursor hormones required for cortisol production get depleted. THEN...all that's left is full blown adrenal collapse. This is not a pretty picture, and can take years to recover from.

So the focus here needs to be on reducing cortisol:

You need to breathe deeply, fill your lungs properly (go on, do it,  just 3 big breaths can make a world of difference). Create some clarity of thought and help your body burn fat rather than glucose. Just by breathing!

The Parasympathetic nervous system when functioning optimally will help your body rest, digest, and repair. Skin regenerates itself and you will shed kilos more easily as the body will finally recognise that it is safe.

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Movement will help reduce stress – Any breathing movement class 2-4 times a week, Yoga, Tai-Chi, Meditation, Pilates and any aerobic/physical activity – swim, walk, jog, run, bike, elliptical just 20-30mins a day most days of the week pays huge dividends.  Fear increases cortisol, therefore regular physical activity will decrease fear by increasing self confidence, resilience and fortitude.

If your schedule is too hectic then break it into daily doses. 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there all adds up in the long run.

Nourishment: You need to focus on eating good fats like avocado, nuts, organic butter, nut butters and great protein sources like tahini, lean happy meat, wholesome grains and eggs

Un-caffeinate: This has been my biggest trial, however, once I pulled caffeine from my diet I stopped crashing and burning. I don't have those high and low waves of energy anymore, I feel much more clear headed and in control. I have removed the extra fight and flight from my system. Caffeine was just pumping it full of extra stress!

Practice gratitude: In order to decrease overwhelmed feeling or stress you could look at filling out a 'gratitude journal' (pick 3 things at the end of every day that you are grateful for and simply write them down) you could volunteer, read affirmations, give thanks, slow down. Live, breathe, learn. Look around you

Social connectivity: Social aggression and isolation leads to increased levels of cortisol triggering mental health problems, especially in adolescence. Close knit human bonds of any sort are vital for physical and mental health at any age.

Laughter and levity: Laughter equals lower stress hormones, and who doesn't love a good laugh? Take some time out to laugh and lower that cortisol level.

Music: Remember to listen to the music you love.  Music for the mood you are in will lower cortisol levels.

So with all of that said and done, lets hope we can create a ripple effect where by we have a calmer world. Where this unsaid mindset that in order to be successful or feel worthy we need to be 'busy' all the time. Be successful in life by pacing yourself and reducing stress in your body and live in the body you love!

Written by: Jess Eastwood