Stress is one of the most common health problems facing people today and the symptoms of stress can make life difficult. To make matters worse, the causes of it are everywhere. Work is a major source of stress, so is family life. Even our health can be a trigger.
The end result will be familiar to many readers. Here’s a checklist of the most common signs and symptoms:
- Poor sleep and frequent waking (read about insomnia cures here)
- Waking tired and feeling tired in general
- Poor concentration and focus
- Mood changes such as irritability, anger, anxiety and low mood
- Hair loss (typically occurring three months after a major stressful event/injury)
- Poor digestive function that leads to nutrient deficiencies
- Recurrent infections
Now that we know what the outward signs of stress look like, what actually causes us to be stressed?
How stress works
Our adrenal glands are responsible for the stress response and they do this primarily to get us away from perceived danger. That’s right. You never know when a sabre tooth tiger is going to chase you down the street! Our brains are still wired for that stuff.
When our body detects a stressful situation it creates adrenaline to help cope with it, and that’s a good thing. It’s what makes us productive and energetic when we need to be. But it becomes a problem when we use adrenaline to get us through the day, every day. That eventually leaves us exhausted and can lead to the secondary health problems listed above.
The bottom line is, adrenaline is important and helpful, but relying on it to get us through the day can create longer term problems. That’s why managing stress is so important along the journey.
Are you stressed?
The symptoms of stress are many, as we saw at the top of this article. But here are some questions to ask yourself that will help you to work out if stress is affecting you.
Is my sleep a problem?
Sleep is hindered when high stress levels reduce melatonin levels. When cortisol levels are high, melatonin levels can be low, and that is why sleep is affected.
Do I get coughs and colds often?
If you are sick on a regular basis that could be because stress is suppressing your immune system. That means you have fewer white cells available to fight infections.
Am I irritable or grumpy?
Consistently high adrenaline output depletes your feel good hormones such as seratonin and dopamine by robbing you of the nutrients needed to make those neurotransmitters.
Am I overweight?
Without being too technical about it, high cortisol leads to weight gain over time because stress causes blood glucose levels to remain high. For both men and women, that could be apparent in weight being carried around the waist.
If you answered ‘yes’ to one or all of these questions, it could be time to consider treatment.
How to treat stress
The most obvious treatment is to remove the cause. That means giving up your high-powered and fulfilling job and moving to a tropical island. But if that’s not a practical solution for you, there is a range of other treatment options.
The do-it-yourself options include exercise, dietary change, time away from the cause of your stress, and other lifestyle changes (yoga, running, or gardening) which can help you to rebalance.
For a more targeted treatment plan, you can ask your health practitioner for some testing, including a morning blood sample of your cortisol, which is a great starting point for understanding your stressed levels and enabling a personalised approach to treatment.
Another test we can perform is a saliva adrenal hormone profile, which analyses both cortisol and DHEA-S (the hormone that regulates our body’s stress response) over a 24 hour period, giving us insights into the stage of stress you are in and how we can tackle it.