Effects of Chronic Stress on the Body

Hello All!

This week I wanted to discuss chronic stress, and the effect it can have on our bodies. We live in a fast-paced society and our bodies are constantly exposed to outside stressors. How do we learn to control how we process those stressors and reduce the health effects that long-term stress can cause.

First, what happens on a physiological level when we are in a state of chronic stress?
Humans are meant to be great at handling short-term stress, but our systems are not built to handle the chronic stress that we have grown accustomed to in our society. When we are in a state of long-term stress, our autonomic nervous system will go into overdrive. We are meant to use our “fight or flight” response when dealing with an immediate danger that we need to get away from. Constantly living in that “amped” state, as though there is an ever-present danger, can wreak havoc on the body.
The first physiological response is received through our senses and processed in the amygdala. If the amygdala determines a threat, a distress signal is sent to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus signals the adrenal glands to pump out epinephrine. This release of epinephrine causes blood pressure and pulse rate to increase. Epinephrine also triggers the release of glucose and fats that are stored in temporary sites in the body.  In an acute stress situation, the parasympathetic nervous system would then kick in, taking the body into rest and digest mode. During chronic stress, the HPA Axis (Hypothalamus Pituitary Adrenal Axis) takes over, allowing the sympathetic nervous system to continue firing. When the brain continues to perceive danger, the hypothalamus will then release Corticotropin Releasing Hormone (CRH) to communicate with the pituitary gland, which releases Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH). ACTH then travels to the adrenal glands and stimulates the release of cortisol. We stay in this pattern until we can relax and allow the parasympathetic nervous system to take over and calm us down.

 

I’m always hearing about the dangers of elevated cortisol levels. Why is this so dangerous?
When released properly in response to acute stress, cortisol is responsible for increasing glucose levels in the blood with the purpose of having energy readily available to fight or flee. This is a healthy physiological response. Problems start to arise however, when we have elevated cortisol levels for too long. A few examples of this are:

  • Impaired cognitive performance
  • Decreased bone density
  • Lowered immunity levels
  • Suppressed thyroid function
  • Blood sugar imbalances
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So, how do I know if I am living in a state of chronic stress?
Here are just a few symptoms that you may have experienced:

  • Chronic allergies
  • Difficulty fighting off infection
  • Trouble waking up in the morning, even after a full night’s sleep
  • Anxiety
  • Craving sugar and salty foods
  • Depression
  • Low sex drive
  • Social isolation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Panic Attacks

How can I reverse chronic stress and reduce cortisol levels?

  • Exercise! When cortisol levels are consistently elevated due to chronic stress, providing an outlet for our “fight or flight” response can be very helpful in reducing the circulating cortisol levels in the bloodstream. Moving for 20-30 minutes each day has been shown to significantly reduce excess cortisol and other stress responses.
  • Eating a diet that doesn’t spike your blood sugar can be very helpful in controlling the release of cortisol. Eat lots of veggies and meats, and skip the caffeine and alcohol–ie The Dr. P diet. 🙂
  • Be social! Spending time with good friends and family that make you feel safe and understood can be calming to the nervous system.
  • Adapt to the stressors that are affecting you. This one is a little tough, but thinking of a bigger picture and realizing the things that you are fortunate for in your own life can be very helpful in finding perspective, and therefore helpful in handling stress more effectively.
  • Meditation. This may seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Start with sitting quietly and thinking about your breath. When in doubt, say to yourself “this breath in” with each inhalation, and “this breath out” for each exhale. Set a timer on your phone for 5 minutes. When the alarm goes off, you’re done! Of course you can practice for longer periods of time, and add mantras when you are comfortable, but the last thing that you want to do is create stressful thoughts around your de-stressing exercise. 🙂
  • Laugh! Adding a little levity each day has also been proven to significantly reduce chronic stress.

Ultimately, we can’t eliminate stress from our lives, but we can make conscious efforts to handle the inevitable stress with grace and ease. I wish you a light, and happy week!

Until next time!

xo Lara

Health Benefits of Saunas

Hello Gorgeous!

This week, I wanted to chat about the health benefits of saunas. Saunas are a part of many different cultures and have been around for thousands of years. Japanese, Finnish, Russian, Roman, American Indian, and Turkish cultures all have their own version of utilizing exposure to ambient heat and inducing sweat for health benefits. Sweating is an excellent way to detox and heal the body through its own natural abilities. On top of all that, they feel fantastic!

Deep sweating is an excellent tool to increase the bodies natural ability to detox. The bodies largest organ is our skin. Sweating allows us to push out toxins through the pores in our skin. A sauna session can allow you to clean your skin more thoroughly than washing the skin as we push the toxins, pollutants, and bacteria out. How cool is that!? In addition, high temperatures kill many strains of bacteria which can help to clear infected, or acne prone skin.

Sauna use can stimulate your heart rate. Spending time in a sauna can increase our heart rate, mimicking the effect of moderate exercise. Some studies have shown that regular exposure to high heat has even increased cardiovascular endurance. The increased heart rate also helps to oxygenate the blood, enhances circulation to the organs, muscle, and fat tissue which promotes healing  **Note–spending time in a sauna will not replace the bodies need for regular exercise. 🙂

Regular sauna use has been linked to a reduction in the risk of developing heart disease. What is this attributed to? In addition to the increased blood flow experienced from an increased heart rate, taking time to relax and unplug can be hugely beneficial in reducing risk of heart disease. This simple act of taking time to relax lowers stress and anxiety, and decreases blood pressure.

Some studies have found that taking a sauna at the beginning of an illness can help fight off infection. Sitting in a sauna increases the body’s core temperature which is like inducing a fever, which is our bodies first line of defense against illness. It is hard for pathogens to survive in higher temperatures.

Saunas can help to alleviate sore, tired muscles after a workout. If you take a sauna after a workout, your increased heart rate that you experience in the sauna can help to increase blood flow to repair your muscles as well as carry away the built-up lactic acid that is created in your muscles during exercise. 

Remember to stay hydrated before and after taking a sauna, as prolonged sweating can cause dehydration. Also, if you feel lightheaded or dizzy during your time in the sauna, exit immediately and re-hydrate while sitting in a cool space. Also, please note that saunas are often contraindicated during pregnancy.

I hope that you are having a happy, healthy week! 🙂 Until next time!

xo Lara

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

Hello!

This week, I wanted to talk a bit about adrenal fatigue. What is it and how do you recognize the symptoms? If you suspect that you do have adrenal fatigue syndrome, there are adrenal stress tests available to confirm. Consult your physician if you suspect that you are struggling with adrenal fatigue syndrome.

What is adrenal fatigue syndrome?
Adrenal fatigue syndrome is characterized as a group of symptoms indicating that the adrenal glands are not functioning at an optimal level. It is categorized by a disruption of your adrenal glands’ ability to create cortisol in response to stress.

Where are the adrenal glands located?
The adrenal glands are located just above each kidney. They coordinate nearly every hormone in your body.

What are possible causes of adrenal fatigue?
1) Stressful experiences such as loss of a loved one
2) Emotional Trauma
3) Lack of sleep
4) Poor diet and lack of exercise
5) Exposure to environmental toxins or pollutants
6) Prolonged stress due to financial hardship, negative home or work environment, etc.

What are possible symptoms of adrenal fatigue?

1) Feeling tired for no reason
2) Increased energy and alertness in the evening, with lethargy during the day
3) Craving sweet and salty snacks
4) Feeling overwhelmed and rundown
5) Inability to handle stressful situations
6) Trouble waking up in the morning even after a full night’s rest
7) Decreased sexual drive
8) Weight gain
9) Bone loss
10) Hair loss
11) Chronic inflammation
12) Decreased ability to focus

How to treat adrenal fatigue?
First of all, consult with your physician if you suspect that you are suffering from adrenal fatigue syndrome. There are also helpful steps that you can take:

Eat an anti-inflammatory diet that is rich in brightly colored vegetables and fruits as well as lean/clean meats (if you eat meat…if not, focus on the veggies). Your diet should include foods that are rich in B vitamins, Zinc, Vitamin D, and selenium; all of which support proper hormone function.  As a general rule, inflammatory foods include those that are deep fried, sugar-based, or carbohydrate heavy. A dinner with wild-caught salmon, broccoli, and roasted sweet potatoes would be a great option on an anti-inflammatory diet. 🙂

Avoid alcohol and coffee.

Go to bed early, and at the same time each night.

Stay hydrated.

Find activities that reduce stress. An hour of light Pilates may just be the ticket! 😉 10 minutes of meditation is clinically proven to reduce stress levels as well.

Thank you so much for stopping by! Until next time!

xo Lara