How many times have you caught yourself answering the question “How are things?” with the answer “Busy, crazy busy!” It has become a common answer in our modern world. People are rushing around, trying to squeeze everything on the to-do list into one day and feeling like there is never enough time to get it all done.
When we talk about stress, we often consider events like death, divorce, sudden job loss and other significant events as being the most stressful. Physical and emotional stress can be both pleasant or unpleasant, the difference being how the event affects us. Having a baby, running a marathon, starting a new job; all of these events are exciting but can also bring a new level of stress to our lives.
Our stress response, also known as “fight or flight,” is an ancient biochemical message that is a lifesaving mechanism controlled by our adrenal glands. When we are in an emergency situation (bear chasing us in the woods, swerving in traffic to avoid an accident) our cortisol levels increase, helping the body to survive by increasing our muscle contraction, our heart rate, our breathing, essentially making us ready to deal with the threat. After the threat passes, our body is supposed to return to a normal resting state. The trouble nowadays is that our modern lifestyle is constantly triggering the stress response even when we are not in danger, telling the body that the bear is around the corner so stay alert!
Medical research suggests that up to 90 per cent of all illness and disease is stress-related. Stress is a driving factor in unhealthy weight gain (especially that “spare tire” weight gain), early aging, heart disease and cancer. Increases in cortisol affect our immune systems, raise our blood sugar, disrupt our sleep cycles and can trigger other hormonal difficulties (menopause, PMS, erectile dysfunction).
The early signs of chronically elevated cortisol can be a feeling of being “wired,” anxiety and restlessness. Over time, the cortisol hormones can’t keep up with the intense demand, and symptoms of being “wired but tired” start to happen. Feel exhausted in the day, but still spend hours trying to fall asleep at night? Guess what comes next? Just plain tired. Can’t get enough sleep, enough coffee, no interest in anything except the couch.
Most of the time these patients come to my clinic because there is nothing wrong with their blood tests but they know they aren’t depressed. They are simply exhausted, their adrenals glands have been depleted and they continue to suffer from a variety of common but debilitating symptoms.
To start feeling better, give yourself an unscheduled hour every weekday and do something that makes you feel calm. Take some time and step outside into nature, dip your toes in the lake, climb a hill and take in the view. The reason we live here is for the lifestyle so allow yourself time to enjoy it.
Have you recognized yourself in any of these descriptions? There are so many ways we can start to change the way we handle stress in our lives but there are also many natural options to help correct the imbalances that stress has caused in our health. Address your stress issues and start to repair the cortisol imbalances today with lifestyle, nutrition, herbal and natural hormonal support. You can get off the path of exhaustion and burnout with proper medical support and healthy stress reduction techniques.
Dr. Shelby Entner is a naturopathic physician and the owner of Vero Health in Vernon.