Health Effects of Stress and 5 Tips for Managing It
Updated: Feb 4
What Are the Effects of Chronic Stress? You've probably heard of the "fight or flight" response where our bodies pump out adrenaline to prepare us for an emergency situation. Well, long term stress keeps you in a similar state for prolonged periods of time. The adrenal glands are responsible for releasing that adrenaline (aka epinephrine) along with other important hormones and neurotransmitters including cortisol, norepinephrine and others that regulate water in the body. Cortisol is key to this discussion because it influences other body systems that, over time, can result in negative health effects. It raises blood sugar, increases heart rate and blood pressure, affects hormone production, suppresses the immune system and promotes weight gain.
What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Stress?
Difficulty remembering things or with concentration
Blood sugar imbalance
Cravings for sugar, salt, fat or caffeine
Stress Management Tips
This is one of the best ways to manage, well, almost everything health related. When you're active your body produces endorphins that lift your mood, decrease pain and make you feel good. Another added benefit of physical activity is better sleep, which in itself is a great way to manage stress. Do any activity that you enjoy whether that's running, walking, dancing or yoga because you're more likely to stick with it long term.
Constant stress can definitely impact your sleep cycle. You may feel worried, anxious or maybe your mind just races while you lay there trying to fall asleep. Sleep deprivation just makes stress worse and feel more overwhelming. It may be difficult at first but try to get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night. There are many ways to go about improving sleep and you can check out my past blog about it here. One way to set yourself up for better sleep is to have an evening routine. Give yourself time in the evening to unwind, relax and prepare your body and mind for restful sleep. Find out what works best for you or try:
Have a cup of tea with valerian, chamomile, passionflower, hops, or kava kava, which are all good botanical sleep aids.
Take a warm shower or bath with Epsom salts
Dim the lights in your house or bedroom
Unplug from electronics like laptops, cell phones, and tablets 30 minutes to 1 hour before bed
Read a favorite book or magazine
Write in a journal about your day, worries, thoughts or anything that might keep you from falling asleep
Make Yourself a Priority - Sometimes our busy schedules are a source of stress and we can feel overwhelmed with too many things to get done and not enough time to do them. Make sure you take time to do something that brings you joy everyday. Taking time for yourself is not selfish; it's necessary so that you have energy to give to what matters to you like your family, friends, or work. Make time for hobbies, exercise, deep breathing, catching up with friends, "me time", or anything else that helps you recharge.
Adaptogens - These are a class of botanicals that help your body manage stress and cortisol in a healthy way. What I love about them is their versatility. In addition to supporting the adrenal glands, they also provide benefits for other body systems including the immune, digestive and nervous systems. They can be found in whole herb, tea, capsule, tincture, and solid extract forms making them easy to incorporate into your life. If you do decide to use herbs for stress management make sure to use good quality products from trusted sources. I like Mountain Rose Herbs, Gaia Herbs, Eclectic Institute, and Herb Pharm. Here are some common botanical adaptogens:
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)
Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng)
Eleuthero aka Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
Cut Down On The Caffeine - When you're under pressure, tired and not getting restful sleep it's understandable that caffeine is the first thing we turn to in the morning and maybe even as an afternoon pick me up when you hit that wall around 3pm. As a stimulant, caffeine has a similar effect as stress because it causes your adrenals to produce more cortisol and epinephrine. If you're drinking multiple cups per day you might try cutting down by 1-2 cups per day or replacing coffee with beverages that contain less caffeine like green tea. A bonus with green tea is that it contains L-theanine, a calming amino acid that can be beneficial for anxiety. You get the energy and mood benefits of the caffeine and the calming effect of the L-theanine. Win-win!
I hope you found something useful in this post that you can start incorporating into your daily routine. The topic of stress and the adrenals is one of my favorites because stress is something we all experience and I think naturopathic medicine has a lot to offer when it comes to effectively managing it. I touched on many recommendations in this post and plan to continue with more in-depth blog posts in the future so stay tuned!
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This website is not intended for the purpose of providing medical advice. All information, content, and material of this website is for informational purposes only and are not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider.