Stress is one of those things that is super sneaky in the way it affects you. When I was in college I was chronically stressed. I had anxiety over projects I was involved in, the pressure to perform at a certain level, and just how filled up my calendar was. Even now as I write this stress still comes up to bite me in the ass if I don’t keep an eye on it. Because here is the thing about stress: there is always a price to pay for the energy to fuel it.
The stress and insulin connection
When your brain registers stress, your hypothalamus talks to your adrenal glands to produce some stress hormones (cortisol) to give you a boost of energy to run from that tiger or ace the interview. Acutely this is pretty normal and even healthy, but chronically this robs you of your health bit by bit. First off when you have a rise in cortisol, your body also dumps glucose (sugar) from your liver stores into your bloodstream to your muscles for fast energy, you know to run from that tiger. Which is fine, for a while, but chronically all that excess sugar in your bloodstream has to be regulated by insulin from your pancreas, which over time can cause insulin resistance. This is bad news for your period health because insulin resistance can lead to hormonal issues like diabetes and PCOS.
Stress is a robber
Back in the day when the only reason to sound the stress alarm was to run from a tiger or hunt we used the back up store of resources to deal with the situation. It’s kind of like shutting things down to reserve energy in a emergency situation. In the case of our bodies when we run that alarm all the time our adrenal glands have two options: to make stress hormones from cholesterol or to make stress hormones from progesterone. Basically your body will sometimes steal progesterone from you in order to make stress hormones, It’s actually called progesterone steal. Stress also eats away at your mineral stores, so you burn through important minerals like magnesium, which is so important because it is involved with 300 different chemical reactions in the body. Basically the price to pay to pull that stress alarm can leave you broke in minerals and important hormones like progesterone. Progesterone is a treat from your body, it is your peace hormone, it helps you to feel relaxed, soothes you and gives you a radiant glow. Also low progesterone can affect your fertility and your ability carry a pregnancy to term. So if you are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant, it is so important to keep stress down.
Stress and the HPA axis
Do you ever wonder why you need 4-5 cups of coffee to get through the morning, or why it is you feel so groggy when you wake up only to get a “second wind” in the evening. Or maybe you feel so anxious all the time, daytime and evening to the point where you have trouble getting to sleep at all. I totes get it and have been there. Let me explain. One of the biggest ways stress affects us is by affecting our energy levels by deregulating the HPA axis (hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenals). Basically our adrenal glands (who make the stress hormones) can work in overdrive in response to stressors by pumping more and more cortisol which can make us feel anxious and can affect our sleep, because if we are high in cortisol then we are low in melatonin (sleep hormone) it’s a teeter totter. Additionally When chronically stressed you ask your adrenals to pump out cortisol at times it would normally be dropping off which disrupts your rhythm and pushes your circadian rhythm later and later in the day. The worst part of this is: sleep is one of the best things to cut cortisol levels, and if we aren’t getting much of it, we are just overloading with stress hormones. Eventually after going on overdrive for so long, our adrenal glands get super exhausted and just stop producing as much cortisol. Which then makes us feel fatigued all the time. We go from anxious and bug eyed to fatigued and groggy. Normally, we need just enough cortisol to give us the energy to go out and do things throughout the day but not too much as that can exhaust our whole system.
Now that you are all educated on stress and how it affects you, give yourself permission to sleep in more, read books, go on long walks in nature, cuddle with a pet or loved one, MEDITATE, exercise and take bubble baths.
I challenge you to treat it like a job! That means scheduling that time into your calendar every week. ;)
If anyone accuses you of “wasting time” tell them you are actually being really productive by giving your body the rest it needs to come back stronger and with more zeal to conquer the world.