Chronic stress has a major impact on our wellbeing. Its presence is encompassing in the current state of our culture and world: physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, financially, environmentally . . . enough to confine us without the hope of ever being free from it.
Our relationship to living well has been eroded by an ocean swell of fast, cheap, and convenient - the crowning achievements of our devolution, but a sea change feels closer than ever now with the earth, the experts, and our minds and bodies sounding the alarms.
Understanding the mind.body toll of chronic stress, talking about it openly, slowing down on purpose, and proactively managing it is our only option until the day comes when we, as a collective human community, decide to make sweeping changes to how we live. Taking a stand with these simple practices may actually be the first step to achieving a new reality.
The silver lining of this storm is that nature is still here, waiting for us, whispering to us to return our attention toward her, asking us to rebuild our relationship. It starts with one stolen moment at a time, for each of us. One cool breeze and sunbeam on our faces at at time. One day at a time.
Let’s begin with understanding the science of stress . . .
The Stress Response & the Relaxation Response
These two branches of the nervous system counteract each other to keep the body safe and in harmony.
The Stress Response
Activates the sympathetic nervous system for “fight or flight”. Signals travel from the brain to the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones to respond to our environment.
Adrenaline is responsible for the heart-pounding and alertness of the fight-or-flight response
Cortisol increases blood sugar via various mechanisms, is immune-suppressing (i.e. anti-inflammatory), and increases bone, protein, and fat breakdown for fuel
Aldosterone regulates fluid balance and blood pressure for cardiovascular, cellular, and mental function
Cortisol, under healthy conditions, follows a daily rhythm of spiking in the morning to wake you up and support activity by releasing glucose into your bloodstream for energy and then gradually declines throughout the day to low levels at night so you can fall asleep.
Cortisol also spikes under times of acute stress and can become chronically elevated or depressed from chronic stress or inflammatory conditions. The adrenals are susceptible to deficiency in hormone production from the effects of chronic inflammation, long term chronic stress, gut dysbiosis, toxin exposure, nutrient deficiency, and mitochondrial oxidative stress.
Signs of chronically elevated cortisol
High blood glucose
Weight gain, metabolic syndrome
Anxiety, depression, overwhelm
Signs of cortisol deficiency and low aldosterone
Low blood pressure
Dizzy when standing
Hypoglycemic tendency, irritable in between meals