I get asked this all the time. And the short answer is yes. Now before you go flipping out, let’s unpack the why’s behind how this is showing up for you so you can keep an eye on it.
I’ve said this many times before, but stress is inevitable in our current societal structure. Where our busy- ness and the ensuing exhaustion have become the badges of honor we get pinned to our chest for the sheer volume of extracurricular activities our kids are in while we hustle to be perfect in our careers, exercise and diet ourselves practically to death to look perfect, and stay awake for as long as humanly possible to have a perfectly clean, gathering ready, perfect hostess social media ready house.
While feeling slightly stressed on occasion is inevitable, what I described above is NOT. That perfectionistic, keeping up with the Joneses, never giving yourself a break, piling too much on your plate just to say you can heightened level of stress for extended periods of time is wreaking havoc on your health.
Stress disrupts your body’s natural hormone balance, causing symptoms like obesity, insomnia, low energy, decreased sex drive and mental illness. Here’s what to look for so you can tell if you’ve reached your tipping point and what you can do about it.
How Stress Creates Hormone Imbalance
Your body naturally produces stress hormones. Produced by the HPTA Axis (the body’s endocrine and nervous systems), these hormones — mainly cortisol and adrenaline — help your body react during situations where it’s perceived a threat to it’s safety. Whether you’re about to deliver a presentation to a room full of C- Suite executives or your alarm didn’t go off and now you’re 30 minutes late, every one of us experiences these small surges of cortisol and adrenaline from time to time.
Unfortunately, those times are becoming more and more frequent as the kids, the bills, and the activities pile up. When these stress hormones are released multiple times per day, they’re remaining in the bloodstream for prolonged periods of time and eventually cause hormone imbalance. Without management, these “fight or flight” responses also can wreak havoc on your health.
Hormones, Health & Weight
Stress hormones are only meant to be triggered by the body on rare occasions. But, in our modern world, feeling “stressed out” has become the everyday norm. I actually once heard my now 14 year old tell me how stressed out she was when she was 10! Those who are chronically stressed, especially women, are at a higher risk of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, weight gain, high blood pressure, thyroid issues and higher risks for autoimmunity, fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxiety and gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea and constipation.
Prolonged stress (and the hormonal imbalance caused by it) can also cause cycle irregularities and infertility in women, as well as a decreased libido and sexual function issues in both men and women. Because stress also changes neurotransmitter signaling, it can trigger mood swings and irritability, leading to strained relationships both at work, at home and with friends. The moral of the story… When stress is chronic enough to create hormonal imbalance, it’s also negatively affecting your health in every way.
Ways to Properly Mitigate Stress
Becoming aware of the W’s (why, where, what, when) you’re experiencing stress is the first step to addressing stress-induced hormone imbalance. Awareness is everything and helps you create strategies and workarounds for navigating tense situations. It’s not about staying calm, it’s about changing your perceptions of those situations so you’ll be able to better control your reactions to external stresses in the future.
Implement these tips for reducing stress load and rebalancing your hormones:
- Eat more nutrient dense, whole real food 80% or more of the time.
- Get regular movement that makes you feel good and energizes you. Don’t don’t have to kill yourself to mean it’s doing something.
- Minimizing your consumption of caffeine and alcohol
- Improving your sleep hygiene
- Evaluating and adjusting your work-life balance
- Advocate for yourself and seek out emotional support from family and friends
Enlisting the help of a nutritionist and life coach can help you better manage your stress and improve your health without having to take things off your to do list.
It’s not always always simple to figure out or understand what’s going on inside your body. By creating awareness around how you feel and harnessing your reactions to stressful situations, you’ll be able to rebalance your hormones, feel better inside each day and keep your weight where you like it.