If You Are, You Know It
There’s an interesting idea about stress; that our bodies simply cannot handle the unique stressors that we are faced with in modern day life.
We are continually faced with stress throughout the day; hurrying to work, rushing to meet a deadline, scrambling to find our car in the parkade, or just worrying about having enough money in the bank to cover our bills. It can make us really ‘stressed-out’. But even though many of us experience these high levels of stress regularly, that doesn’t make it normal.
In his book The Cortisol Connection, Shawn Talbott Ph.D., explains that some people can be chronically stressed, leading to high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. He lists the symptoms as follows:
- Perpetually feeling ‘rushed’
- Feeling as though you have more to do than there are hours in the day to accomplish them
- Low sex drive
- Difficulties concentrating
- Weight gain around the abdomen
Does this sound like you?
HOW DO WE BECOME CHRONICALLY STRESSED?
There’s an interesting example in The Cortisol Connection: Think of a zebra who, when it sees a lion, will have an immediate stress response known as ‘fight or flight’ which enacts a series of neurological, biochemical, hormonal, and physiological responses in the zebras body, and releasing stress hormones allowing it to run away, escaping the lion. For the zebra, its entire stress response runs its course pretty quickly: Sees lion, thinks ‘oh, crap’, fight or flight kicks in, zebra then runs as fast as possible, escapes lion, calms down, and has a rest. Yay zebra.
Unfortunately, our lives generally don’t play out like that, and the things that stress us out usually come in the form of bills, deadlines, or family troubles; things that we cannot outrun or escape. This puts us stuck in the middle of our evolutionary stress response where our hormones are elevated and stay that way; leading to chronic stress.
When we encounter a stressful situation our cortisol levels raise. If we encounter stressful things regularly and we’re unable to relax or eliminate the cause of that stress, our cortisol levels stay elevated above their normal range.
HOW ARE YOU AFFECTED BY CHRONIC STRESS?
Elevated cortisol levels can lead to a bunch of not-so-wonderful effects; things like fat accumulating in the abdominal area, poor sleep quality, memory problems, and cravings for things like coffee, sugar, chocolate, pasta, refined carbs, and alcohol.
HOW CAN YOU DE-STRESS?
This is the tricky part. Figuring out the cause of your stress can be difficult, and figuring out what to do next isn’t simple either. Should you eliminate the cause of your stress or try to change how you respond to it? This could involve taking up kickboxing or yoga to help eliminate tension, learning to meditate, beginning to simplify your life, or even rethinking how you want your life to look (that’s a big one).
Nutritionally, there are few things you can do to reduce your cortisol levels, thus reducing your stress. You can take adaptogenic herbs like Siberian ginseng, licorice root extract, or schizandra (In tea or pill form) which help to regulate the amount of cortisol produced by your adrenal glands. You can also take a B complex supplement and eat a healthy diet rich in foods containing B vitamins like dark green leafy veggies and whole grains, avoiding caffeine, which raises cortisol, and get lots of exercise, which will block the effects of cortisol. Lastly, make sure to get a decent amount of sleep as lost sleep will raise cortisol levels.