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Is Stress Making You Sick?

It’s a common conception that stress has a detrimental effect on the body and our health. Some may wonder what the relationship between stress and disease actually is? Is there a spiritual, emotional, psychological or physical link between our overall health and our lifestyle – and the answer is yes!

Stress has a detrimental effect on not only our mental outlook, but also our physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

On a scientific level, stress prompts the adrenal glands to release the steroid hormone called cortisol. This is the body’s primary stress hormone. Cortisol has many functions such as controlling blood sugar levels and blood pressure, managing the use of carbs, fats & proteins, as well as regulating the body’s sleep-wake cycle – it’s the driving force behind getting you out of bed in the morning. So if you struggle to ‘get the engine started’ there is a good chance you have a cortisol imbalance. What is cortisol? Don’t be mistaken – cortisol is a healthy hormone and we all need it to function, but too much or too little can play havoc with our energy levels and mindset. A healthy person is able to stimulate the production of cortisol when the body needs it (to wake up, to regulate blood sugar etc) and block it when the levels need to drop back down (when we’re winding down for the day and it’s time to relax). When a person is stressed, they create excess amounts of cortisol which is stored and begins to affect their health, even amounting to many forms of disease and adrenal fatigue.

Disease that begins in this nature – caused from within (rather than an external virus you have caught) is a manifestation of poor lifestyle practices that have accumulated and been ignored. Our body is trying to communicate with us and let us know that something is wrong and needs to be addressed. When we are in-tune with our body, we pick up these signs very easily and take the right actions to eradicate the root cause through rest, detoxification, clean eating and light exercise. When we ignore the warning signs, chronic disease is invited into our lives. What is stress? Stress can be defined as an ‘inability to cope with one’s surroundings’. There are examples of people who lead very busy, demanding lives with a lot of responsibility and do not feel the effects of stress. Although this is very rare, it is possible through meditation and a healthy lifestyle. Then there are people with very few responsibilities who feel enormous amounts of stress. Stress cannot be qualified by your lifestyle alone – but more by the way in which you choose to cope with your lifestyle.

Physical signs of excessive stress/cortisol:

  • a blood test reflecting high levels of cortisol

  • high blood pressure

  • a flushed face

  • muscle weakness

  • increased thirst

  • frequent urination

  • changes in mood, such as feeling irritable or low

  • rapid weight gain in the face and abdomen

  • bruises or purple stretch marks appearing on the skin

  • decreased sex drive

  • irregular menstruation cycle

Risks of high cortisol:

  • fatigue

  • high blood pressure

  • type 2 diabetes

  • impaired brain function

Signs of low cortisol:

  • fatigue

  • dizziness

  • muscle weakness

  • gradual weight loss

  • changes in mood

  • areas of the skin turning darker

  • low blood pressure

Natural ways to lower cortisol: If the communication between the brain and the adrenal gland is functioning normally, the body is able to increase and reduce cortisol production as needed. If this is not the case, there are ways in which you can work to balance your cortisol levels while your body recovers its ability to control this function.

  • Reduce levels of stress – this may seem totally obvious but it is the most important thing you can do. Develop a mindfulness or meditation practice, reconcile/forgive the things that have happened in the past, move forward, let go, breath, connect, enjoy life.

  • Eat a healthy diet full of organic whole foods including fresh fruit and veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, healthy oils, lean protein. Avoid caffeine, stimulants and all processed & sugary foods.

  • Get quality sleep – deep & meaningful sleep that lasts at least 6-8 hours per night. Try avoiding any artificial light for 2 hours before you go to bed. Read a book, organise your day ahead, journal about your day just gone, meditate, give yourself a foot or head massage. There are so many lovely ways to unwind for the day.

  • Get creative – life is not just about working and sleeping. You have to have an outlet in life that you enjoy. Learn a new skill, play an instrument, experiment with arts & crafts etc.

  • Move your body – exercise is one of the best ways to burn off excess cortisol and increase your mood, as long as it is not too intense (which can actually increase cortisol).

  • Laughter is the best medicine – that’s the truth! Cortisol levels are instantly reduced when a person is genuinely laughing. A positive outlook, some good human connection and shared laughter will be your best friend.

  • Supplement your health regime with adaptogens like ashwagandha/withania, magnesium and activated B vitamins, herbs such as rhodiola, rehmannia, ginseng, oats, lavender and passionflower.

Bottom line Cortisol is healthy, we need it to function. But too much or too little can be harmful to our health. There are lots of ways to naturally balance levels of cortisol through healthier lifestyle practices, human connection, happiness and joy. By putting these principles into practice, we are better equipped to face stressful situations and can therefore live a more healthy & balanced life.

*For a correct diagnosis and professional treatment we recommend that you book a naturopathic consultation so that a practitioner may individually prescribe and tailor your treatment plan specifically to your needs.


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