It’s been a week.
There is nothing like your child spraining a limb, doctors offices, x-rays, crutches, physiotherapy, osteopathy, drop off and pick up at school because the bus and crutches don’t mix, on top of the regular busy of my days to really throw everything for a loop.
Now I know better than to rely on caffeine to get me through, but it’s so easy to keep going at breakneck speed to fit everything into the day, knowing your body is in overdrive but assuming you can just relax later. Don’t you find though, that one week then spills into the next and before you know it you’re damn near exhausted? That my friends, is a sure sign you’ve abused your body’s stress responses and they have just about given up.
So what do I mean when I say your body is waving the white flag of defeat at you??
It all starts with a hormone…
If there's one workhorse hormone in the body, it's cortisol.
Cortisol, which is secreted by the adrenal gland, has an incredibly wide range of metabolic and non-metabolic effects all over the body.
Throughout the day, its release is cyclic, like the thermostat in a house, rising and falling with our natural Circadian rhythm of sleeping, wakefulness and eating. However, with added stress, the rhythm of cortisol is disrupted and we start seeing changes in our sleep patterns, memory and immune response, and blood sugar levels.
When a stressful event happens, like running to catch the bus, the hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) which starts the stress response cascade, then causing release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) from the anterior pituitary gland. ACTH acts on the adrenal gland down by the kidneys, telling it to start pumping out more cortisol - because that bus needs to be caught so you can get to work on time! This hormonal response to an external stressor, the approaching bus, takes only a few minutes to complete, but once activated cortisol levels stay elevated for upwards of an hour, even if you're seated safely on the bus with plenty of time to spare.
The persistence of cortisol is a survival tactic, keeping the body primed and ready in case another stressor presents itself (fight or flight). This is the normal response to occasional stress, a quick rise in cortisol and then a gradual decline back to normal.
If however, if you get to work and day after day is a crazy, non-stop rush with no break for lunch (let alone that coffee), the normal stress response turns into a chronic stress response with a very different cortisol pattern.
The chronically stressed person does not have a dramatic spike in cortisol levels in response to a single stressor. Instead, there's a low-grade climb in cortisol over a prolonged time period that never falls back down to normal levels.
So what happens then? Adrenal fatigue.
In a nutshell, after maintaining elevated cortisol for so long, the adrenal glands can no longer cope with additional stress. They resist the signals from the brain and fail to release more cortisol. Adrenal fatigue, or resistance, results in impairment of the ability to deal with any type of stress.
The common cold or a minor annoyance becomes overwhelming to a person with resistant adrenal glands. Their body cannot cope, needing to take serious time out to recharge so that cortisol production can normalize. Adrenal fatigue presents as an inability to concentrate, excessive fatigue, insomnia, nervousness and irritability, depression, dry skin, allergies, headaches and digestive problems - even heart disease and cancer in the long term.
You can counteract crazy schedules and chronic stress by having more fun, expressing your emotions, getting good quality sleep, learning relaxation techniques and exercising regularly. Or in my case this week, asking for help! These acts of self-care go a long way!
A wholesome diet with high-nutrient natural foods is essential for people under stress - which pretty much means everyone these days. Stress increases cellular activity, which leads to increased nutrient use. Depletions in common nutrients such as antioxidant vitamins A, C, E, the B vitamins, and the minerals zinc, selenium, magnesium, iron etc, will aggravate the damaging effects of stress.
For more information on Adrenal Fatigue and how it affects hormone levels and other areas of the body, you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or via our website www.carlislewellness.com. We can work together with dietary recommendations, a few key supplements as well as lifestyle adjustments to get you back to your best health.
(c) 2017 Carlisle Integrative Wellness
The Complete Doctor's Stress Solution by Penny Kendall-Reed and Dr. Stephen Reed. Robert Rose, 2004.
Staying Healthy with Nutrition by Elson M Haas MD, 2006.