how stress affects your hormones
Cortisol, Stress, Hormones...Oh My!
So what is stress anyway? The Miriam Webster dictionary defines stress as “a physical, chemical or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation.”
So, as you probably guessed, the answer to the question “Is stress a big deal?” is “Yes” – IF you care about your health.
Here’s what happens in your body…
We will all suffer from high states of stress at some point in our lives, and in today’s busy society we are involved in regular stressful life situations, along with frequent and exhausting training schedules. This stress is a burden on the body, and if the stress becomes chronically elevated and prolonged, we can end up massively fatigued and run down. What we don’t always realize is the potential damage this is doing on the inside of our bodies and how it affects our health and performance.
At the time of a stressful event, the hypothalamus sends a nerve impulse directly to your adrenals, which causes them to secrete adrenaline. Adrenaline is the reason for the heightened state you feel after the
event, it results in high blood pressure, respiration and heart rate. The body also releases glucose during this stressful time.
This causes the release of the corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH) – which tells the pituitary to release –the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) – which tells the adrenals to produce cortisol. One-off releases of cortisol can be a good thing for the body, as they help regulate immune function, repair tendons/ligaments and may even accelerate fat loss. The problems occur when cortisol is elevated for prolonged periods of time. It is chronic, low level stress that never quite goes away that leads to physical problems.
Here’s the risk…
The long-term activation of the stress-response system – and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones – can disrupt almost all your body’s processes.
This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:
• Digestive problems
• Heart disease
• Sleep problems
• Weight gain
• Memory and concentration impairment
Other negative effects of chronic stress include:
- + nutrient deficiencies as a result of decreased nutrient absorption
- + reduced gut flora (the ‘good’ bacteria)
- + increased levels of cortisol (which can inhibit weight loss)
- + lowering metabolism and increasing fat storage
- + increased oxidative stress (which causes premature aging)
The resulting hormonal imbalances (involving cortisol and insulin, in particular) and chronic low-grade inflammation can set the stage for the development of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer, and other chronic diseases.
Chronic stress can also make you more susceptible to colds, flus and other infections.
And physical stress disrupts physiological homeostasis in a number of ways (including the hormonal and inflammatory pathways) that may affect your energy level in an adverse way.
The effects of stress can also affect your state of mind, impairing your working memory and your ability to control your impulses. It also increases the risk of anxiety and depression. In addition, unbridled stress can sap your energy and undermine your motivation and resolve to make or stick with healthy lifestyle changes.
In fact, research from the University of California, San Francisco, found that people who reported higher levels of stress had a greater drive to eat, including disinhibited eating, binge eating, hunger, more ineffective attempts to control their eating, all of which can promote weight gain.
Source: Dr. David Katz, Author, Disease-Proof
The causes of stress are endless, especially in this modern, fast-paced society we live in. I think oftentimes we minimize the amount of stress we’re under because we aren’t even fully conscious of it. I’ve been guilty of this myself.
We’re going to cover some ideas to help reduce stress but the first thing I’d like to address is probably the most important thing you can do starting today. It’s simple, you already do it everyday – but once you do more of it and do it consistently, you’re likely to notice a huge difference in how you feel. So what’s the solution? Get more sleep!
How is getting enough sleep going to help with stress? You may be surprised.
If you’re saying “But I can’t, I have way too much to do!” you should know that insufficient sleep decreases productivity, so by getting enough sleep, you can actually get more done in less time AND feel better while you’re doing it.
Here’s an all too common scenario:
You get to bed too late and when it’s time to wake up, your alarm goes off and you’re still tired and hit the snooze button one too many times. Now you’re running late. There’s no time for a decent breakfast, much less, time for packing a healthy lunch to take with you. You leave the house hungry and tired and arrive at work. The only ‘food’ available is whizzing through a drive through, something in a vending machine, the donuts someone else brought into the office or worse, you just have time to grab some coffee.
Now, you’re dragging all day with low energy because this is not the first night this week you haven’t had enough sleep. Somewhere between 2:00 and 3:00pm you’re ready to crash, so you grab the closest thing you can find with sugar to keep you going a while longer. And, you may grab another cup of coffee. You leave work way too tired to stop at the gym to exercise or have the incentive to go for a walk when you get home. You grab a quick, highly processed snack to get you through until dinner.
If this pattern is repeated often enough over the course of weeks or months, you can imagine where this leads you. Many of us are operating this way on a regular basis.
It’s stressful and it’s wreaking havoc on us in every possible way. It may have started as a result of a particular event or short-term project, but then became a habit. However, the more we become aware of the things we do that have us on the road to depleting our health, the easier it is to make a change.
What if you did this instead…
You get 7-9 hours of sleep and sleep straight through. You wake up rested, refreshed and ready to take on the day. You hop out of bed, drink your water, have a healthy breakfast, arrive at work on time relaxed and feeling productive. You have a balanced, healthy lunch that gives you sustained energy for the rest of the afternoon. No mid-afternoon crash. No snacks or coffee are needed nor craved. You’ve either worked out before you got to work or you have energy to work out after. You go home and are happy to make a balanced, healthy dinner and enjoy time with your family. You still feel good. You get to bed by 10:00 or at the latest 11:00 p.m. so you get in your amount of needed sleep.
Now, THAT’S a great day!
Do you see how the way you wake up each morning affects your entire day? It all starts with how rested you are when you wake up and that depends on the amount and quality of sleep you get. When we are fully rested, it also allows us to handle stress better. Adequate sleep helps us recover from stress too. When we’re asleep, our bodies have a chance to rest, repair, detox and recover.
What to do…
+ Eat little and often
It is important for those suffering from elevated stress levels to eat regularly with consistent meal timings throughout the day. The meals should be nutritionally balanced with adequate protein, fats and carbs. Avoid sugary foods, caffeine and alcohol, which can all have a big effect on blood glucose levels.
+ Don’t skip meals
Fasting should never be used by those under a lot of stress as it will call on the adrenals to produce glucocorticoids to maintain a level of blood glucose, thus resulting in further overuse of the adrenals. Basically, don’t skip breakfast or go extra long periods without food.
+ Eat your carbs
Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy usage, and this becomes more apparent during times of stress. To help provide the energy to support recovery from the stress, you should be following a high carbohydrate diet.
+ Manage your lifestyle
Look at the areas of your life that are causing you stress. What are some ways you can reduce it?
For example: Look at your calendar and see what you have going on each day in the coming month. If you (and your spouse and/or kids) are completely overbooked, is there a solution?
Don’t let your schedule run YOU – decide how YOU can run your schedule. It may mean making some changes or adjustments, and possibly eliminating some commitments.
SOME TIPS //
Exercise regularly (low to moderate activity like yoga, stretching, walking)
Get some sun daily
Reduce caffeine, alcohol, sugar and nicotine
Get enough sleep
Introduce relaxing techniques (meditation, deep breathing)
Do things you enjoy
Listen to music you like
Laugh a lot
Have plenty of sex
I hope this was helpful. I’m truly so devoted to the topic of stress and sleep that I could talk about it for days. Keep an eye out for more blogs posts on this topic in the future!