A little bit of stress can be positive to our system, however constant stress over time, greatly affects our hormones, mental activity, digestion, skin, it can cause hair loss, insomnia, weight gain and increase our chances of high blood pressure and stroke as well as decreasing our fertility and sex drive.
Short term stress enables the “flight or fright” response to kick in, e.g. running away from a tiger, or avoiding a car accident or getting a fright. These events trigger the hormone adrenaline to be released into our body and attest for greater strength during periods of stress – i.e. people’s ability to lift a car off their child, or lift heavy objects to get to their children/partner/colleague safe in dire situations, it also enables for speed and endurance- however this is short lived and due to the high amount of adrenaline being pumped into the body by our hypothalamus, we then need our other system – which is the “rest and digest” hormone to combat the adrenaline – this is known as noradrenaline and focuses on calming the body down – enabling a good sleep and good digestion.
Thus, we have 2 main systems in our body which help to control our hormones.
The sympathetic system – which is the “flight or fright” response and which pumps the hormone adrenaline into our body by signalling the adrenal gland to release adrenaline into our system.
The parasympathetic system – which is the “rest and digest” system, which combats adrenaline, and reduces cortisol levels in our body. The parasympathetic system needs to be “turned on” in order to sedate the sympathetic system.
Too much stress in our lives, or constant and ongoing stress, negatively affects our body and causes the kidneys to overproduce adrenaline, leading to higher cortisol levels in the body. This, over a long-term period taxes the kidney’s and leads to what we call adrenal fatigue.
Long Term stress causes the following issues within our bodies:
1) Reduced sex drive – due to too much adrenaline and the kidneys being in overdrive, this causes fatigue and the increased cortisol affects our sex hormones, causing a reduction in the sex hormones being produced, thus lowering our libido.
2) Irregular periods – due to our sex hormones being impacted by cortisol
3) Acne breakouts – due to increased oil production, (due to increased cortisol levels) other skin conditions can also occur
4) Hair loss – due to anxiety as a result of stress, and blood flow being divert to essential organs.
5) Poor digestion – our parasympathetic system is not switched on and cortisol can affect the amount of HCL which is the acid used to digest our food. We can also experience diarrhoea, constipation, bloating and cramps.
6) Insomnia – the parasympathetic system cannot sedate the sympathetic system, hence our ability to sleep is impacted. You may find it difficult to get to sleep, or have trouble staying asleep. Or you may wake up between the hours of 2-4am.
7) Weight gain – especially around the middle, this is due to increased levels of cortisol, which affect fat metabolism.
8) Decreased cognitive function – i.e. a foggy head, poor concentration and poor memory
9) Decreased fertility, due to cortisol affecting the sex hormones, stress also indicates to the body that it is not “safe” to conceive due to a perceived danger.
10) Increased risk of heart disease and stroke – due to increased cortisol levels.
11) Fatigue – due to the adrenal glands being overloaded and drained.
Stress is one of the major causes of infertility. As mentioned previously, stress has a major impact on our sex hormones and our hormones in general. Alongside stress, our adrenal gland secretes adrenaline into our body nonstop – which causes the body to feel fatigue and begin to affect many other areas in the body.
To assist with combating stress, we need to make sure that we exercise daily – this doesn’t mean having to hit the gym hard for an hour. It can be as easy as 3 lots of 10 minutes of walking a day. Running up and down the stairs 10 times in our lunch break and coffee break, a 20 min cycle to work, or just walking up and down our hallways. Walking 10,000 steps a day assist our body to improve circulation, release serotonin – the feel-good hormones and to improve blood flow and oxygen to our brain. It also reduces stress.
Other ways to combat the effects of stress include – walking along the beach or listening to the sound of the ocean waves on a download. Listening to a different sound frequency – known as solfeggio frequencies. The music works on our body by talking to it at different frequencies. It assists us to have a deeper and better quality of sleep and to rebalance our bodies.
Take a B vitamin. When we are stressed, we use up our B vitamins. B vitamins are needed to help us with energy, concentration and memory. A constant state of stress depletes this and as the B vitamins are not stored at all in the body, we become depleted.
Meditate – there are some great apps now available including one-minute mediations. This is about stopping and focusing on our body and our breathing. Just breathing properly grounds us and connects us back into our bodies.
Practice yoga, Qi Gong or Tai Chi. Many gyms now run stretching classes, yin classes and other mindfulness courses. If we are stressed and tired, a hard-core work out is not always the best way to manage our stress. Sometimes what we need is an actual slower class – stretches, yin yoga, tai chi, walking for 30 mins outdoors (if it isn’t raining) or even swimming is an ideal form of exercise to help us to combat the impact of stress.
Eat smaller meals more often. When our body is stressed, the digestive function becomes impaired as the body is busy sending energy to our muscles in order to flee from the big bad tiger. This energy, blood and nutrients are syphoned away from the digestive tract and to other areas of the body in order to flee from the danger as quickly as possible. For this reason, we need to eat smaller and more frequent and lighter meals. Try and avoid carb heavy meals and include protein, wholegrains and fat in every meal.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol and drugs. Too much caffeine – either black tea or coffee drains the adrenals even more. Instead of coffee and tea try instead to drink herbal teas such as peppermint tea, green tea, spearmint tea, hibiscus tea, rosehip tea, chamomile tea. I use an Energy tea which I designed myself along with the my Immunity tea as this blends helps to boost up my energy while supporting my adrenal system as well as supporting my immune system, as during time of stress, our immune system becomes weakened – leading to us to be more susceptible to colds, flu and viruses.
Seek assistance to help you manage your time and your stress. Deal with things that are urgent, those not so urgent can be left until tomorrow. Organize for some help – get a cleaner in, or order in boxes that do all the shopping for you and you just must cook the meal, use frozen veggies instead of fresh, bulk cook meals and freeze them. Turn the phone off from 7pm, put it on silent and in a draw – don’t take work home with you. In the 21st century we live on adrenaline and don’t give our bodies time to rest and recover. Get out in the fresh air and soak up the vitamin D – this aids our body to make melatonin, a natural hormone which our body produces so that we can sleep. If you are a shift worker – avoid caffeine and blue screens. Place black out curtains in the bedroom to assist you to sleep and on days off, have a quick nap – 2 hours then get up and get going so that by 7-8pm you are ready for sleep.
Where do we fit in?
We use Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine frequently with stress and sleep issues. Acupuncture works with your body to heal itself. It acts to reset your body to its equilibrium.
Chinese Herbal medicine reinforces the actions of the acupuncture. Chinese Herbal medicine is made up specifically for you yourself, and can be made up of powdered herbs, capsules or as a tincture.
We also incorporate food as medicine and dietary advice to get you back on to your feet.
It is imperative if your stress levels are high, to try and implement all the above advice.
Stress is a major cause of fertility issues, but can be combatted with a change in lifestyle, diet and exercise routines and practicing mindfulness.
Written by Dr Julia Bartrop – Acupuncturist and busy mum of 2.
Please see also the following links for more information.
Physical side of stress
Health effects of stress and women