September Wellness: Stress Management
Updated: Aug 16, 2022
With back-to-school and work duties, September can be a stressful time of year. It can also set the tone for the rest of the year: either be on top of stress management early on, or be consumed by the never-ending list of to-do's and obligations. The pandemic added a whole new level of stress to these workings.
The Effects of Stress On Your Body:
1. Increases inflammation (worsens inflammatory disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis and auto-immune conditions)
2. Promotes abdominal weight gain and increases risk of heart disease
3. Increases risks of mental health disorders (generalized anxiety disorders, depression)
4. Raises blood pressure
5. Related to digestive disturbances (irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux)
6. Increases the risks for anxiety, depression, insomnia and panic disorders
Who else feels like this?!
The Adrenal-HPA Axis (Your body on stress)
Stress (either emotional or physical) causes the hypothalamus to release a hormone (CRH) that triggers the pituitary glands to send a signal to the adrenal glands that "there is danger". This results in the adrenal gland producing Cortisol - which is helpful in small doses (increases concentration and physical strength). When we are constantly stressed, the HPA axis is over-firing, thinking that we are in danger. This leads to adrenal overdrive and chronic anxiety, sleep issues, muscle tension, digestive issues, higher blood pressure and hormonal/thyroid imbalances. Overtime, the adrenal glands do not become as effective in producing cortisol, which leads to feelings of exhaustion and burnout, along with depression, chronic pain and poor immunity.
Ways to support stress by reducing cortisol levels:
1. Maintain an exercise and relaxation routine
Don't overdo it with the exercise as when we are in adrenal fatigue, exercising too hard can actually stress the adrenal glands even more. If you are an avid runner or cardio junkie, make sure to balance out your exercise routine with things like yoga and stretching to help calm down the adrenals, and put your body into relaxation mode. Brisk walking, weight training, swimming and yoga are perfect ways to exercise if you are feeling burnt out since they are lower impact. Be careful not to overdo exercising when you are burnt out as exercise is a "stressor" to the body. Start with small amounts that don't leave you feeling wiped after.
2. Eat foods containing B-vitamins and protein
Foods like lean meats/dairy, eggs, beans, nuts/seeds, tofu, leafy greens and complex carbohydrates are good sources of B vitamins. B vitamins and protein (found in meat/fish, dairy, seeds/nuts, tofu and legumes) help calm down the nervous system and prevent spikes in blood sugar.
3. Don't overdo it on caffeine and stay hydrated
I generally tell patients not to have coffee after 12 pm, and if you have a drink in the afternoon - stick to green/chai tea or even half decaffeinated coffee. The body needs 8 cups of water per day to ensure cells are properly hydrated. Dehydration can quickly stress the body out, so this is a great way to maintain wellness.
4. Use Adaptogenic Herbs that work to regulate cortisol levels
Certain botanical and Ayruvedic herbs have been studied for their adrenal-regulating properties, along with their abilities to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, low mood and fatigue. These abilities give these herbs the name "adaptogens" since they help the body adapt to stressors. I work with patients to properly select Adaptogenic herbs based on the types of stress you are experiencing, and whether you are in over-drive or burnout mode. Ask me about my Stress Identity Questionnaire to find out where you are on the stress continuum.
Did you know: Naturopaths can test your cortisol hormone levels through bloodwork, along with other measures like TSH, T3/T4 and hormonal levels that all interplay with cortisol. These are often covered through benefits as well!
5. Try getting regular Acupuncture & other Body Work
Acupuncture has been shown to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system ("rest & digest" mode) which is helpful for stress, anxiety, depression and sleep disturbances. Helping the body get into this mode can also help the body better regulate other normal bodily functions. Needle stimulation of various points on the body release endorphins locally and throughout the body, helping with headaches and other pain disorders. Yoga, gentle stretching and massage also similarly increase endorphin levels, reducing stress and boosting mood.
6. Create Healthy Boundaries and Learn to Say "No"
This can be the hardest one to do, especially if you are constantly wanting to give back to others and keep everyone around you happy. Although it's great to be a giving and selfless person, we also need to give the same kindness to ourselves and know when we have had enough or are not feeling up to partaking in an event/activity.
7. Connect with others that you trust
It can be the best feeling to be surrounded by those that let you be you and that you know have your back 100%. It's important to connect with these friends, family or colleagues frequently, even just for a quick phone call to do whatever you need - vent, laugh, cry? (hey we are all human!) Even a simple "check-in" text can be helpful and turn a stressful day into a more manageable one. Talking to a trained professional such as a therapist can also be added to help manage the effects of stress.
I know what it's like to both feel in adrenal overdrive and also feel totally burnt out. Fortunately, there are many lifestyle strategies and supportive naturopathic therapies to help reduce stress and anxiety, and provide your body with the right foundation for longterm health.
Feel free to share this article with anyone in need, and I would also be happy to chat with you on how I could help manage your stress. Email email@example.com to arrange a FREE 15 Minute Discovery Call or book a SEPTEMBER STRESS Telephone Consult.
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Yours in Health & Wellbeing,