Tis the season to be jolly, but so often we find stress chasing our yuletide cheer away. What we do not always realize is that stress is more than just an emotion, it is a physical flurry of hormones, increases in blood pressure, blood sugar imbalances, there is an internal physical response to that stressed feeling that can wear us down over time.
Cortisol is the stress hormone that is often explained as the "fight or flight" hormone, but I find it to be a little more relatable when described as the "Get up, get going and get it done!" hormone of today's busy culture. It acts as a mild pain reliever and signals the release of stored sugars into the blood for immediate energy. "Have you ever been rushing to get something done, and then when the flurry of activity subsides realize that you have a cut on your finger, or bruise somewhere and you do not even know how it happened? Chances are you may have done something while operating at a slightly stressed level and didn't realize it, till the cortisol receded and your pain system began operating at full force again.
When your stress is acute, it comes and goes on as needed basis as a useful and normal functioning stress pattern. However chronic stress is when you feel continuously stressed throughout the day without times of peace. We may not even realize at first that we are continuously stressed, in today's culture a busy overfilled life is the norm. However, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stress is the cause of 90% of chronic disease.
Raised cortisol levels over a long period of time can begin to cause physical symptoms such as continuously raised blood sugar levels, higher blood pressure, decreased immunity, increased fat storage around the abdomen, and poor digestion - all of which can be a precursor to heart problems.
Having imbalanced blood sugar over a prolonged period of time increases internal and possibly external inflammation, while stressing the adrenals (which make the cortisol) even more. It creates a vicious cycle that if not addressed can further our physical discord by contributing to more weight gain, brain fog, lowered energy, off balanced sex hormones, and an overall decreased vitality. In other words that afternoon slump becomes a daily occurrence, and your ability to get up and go is starting to fade, while having a "Good Day" seems to get harder and harder.
At this point it is very important to start paying attention to your body and it's signs of distress. If not then the next step is adrenal fatigue, when they become burned out and your cortisol levels plummet. Translation: Your get up and go has got up and left. You are trying to operate under conditions that your body can no longer physically keep up with. The current state of your body has these symptoms: Tired, depressed, anxious, unable to handle daily stressors, insomnia, hormonal imbalance, weight gain, essentially an overall crashing and lack of energy.
Chronically unmanaged stress can lead to autoimmune disease where a misfunctioning immune system begins attacking your adrenals. Mind you this takes some time to reach this point. More than just months, usually years of dealing with stress without proper restorative time. Restorative time is the opposite of a state of stress, (when your sympathetic system is in gear) it is the parasympathetic state, or restorative state. This is when your blood flow isn't being diverted to your large muscles for the "fight or flight" aka "Get it done!," instead it returns to your digestive system to properly digest and uptake and distribute nutrients. Healing, detoxing, excreting, all occur, as well as allowing blood flow back into the prefrontal cortex where thoughtful choices and higher thinking happens.`
Furthering the complications of stress include the physiological changes from a dominance of the hormone estrogen. We will examine the effects of this and how they exacerbate the problem next time.
So what can we do about this vicious cycle? Where can we break in and begin a change? Once we recognize we are on a treadmill of anxiety and going nowhere fast, we can begin to manage our stress and do things differently. Beginning with a few simple stress management techniques and then moving on to major lifestyle changes we can begin to bring overall vitality back and have "Good Days" once again.
The above are easy practical steps to take to begin managing stress. Sometimes though the process has gotten more complicated and more help is needed. Our adrenals need extra TLC and our mind needs to be specifically addressed. Choose to intentionally set time aside for your body to heal and connect with others in ways that are pleasurable even if you are not 100% enjoying it. And realize that it is ok, but focus on not allowing it to stress you that you may not be fully feeling joy.
Specifically we need to address the physical state to heal and recover and give your emotional state time to balance.
Nourishing the adrenals is of utmost priority as well as balancing blood sugar. Here is a quick rundown of the foods that will impact you positively:
Healthy Fats: Extra virgin olive oil, avocado (good for high heat), grassfed butter or ghee, coconut oil
Leafy greens, cucumber, celery, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, etc), radishes, beets
Herbs: ginger, turmeric, rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano
Increase your zinc, B vitamins, and magnesium (pumpkin seeds and leafy greens, and organ meats are a good source or supplement)
Hydrate - avoid caffeine and sugar
Excellent essential oils for support are Ylang ylang and Lavender. Ylang ylang is clinically studied to decrease blood pressure, stop anxiety, increase sexual desire, decrease inflammation, and help you achieve a more relaxed state. Lavender has also been studied to show that it decreases stress, anxiety, and depression. It balances blood sugar, aids in weight loss, and acts as an antioxidant. Again sourcing is very important to be sure you get 100% pure, therapeutic grade oils.
Visit Healthier and Happier at www.jennifergarn.com to learn more about how nutrition impacts your overall health. You can also book a consult to get a personalized plan to create change for yourself!
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