Chronic health issues is a modern twenty-first-century problem. Cortisol (a steroid hormone) is secreted by the adrenal glands in a daily, rhythmical fashion. When we wake up cortisol is at its highest and it gives us a natural surge of energy. As the day is progressing, cortisol level drops and riches its lower by midnight. We enter rest, detoxification and repair phase during sleep.
Cortisol levels rise whenever the stress response gets activated due to stress (life issues, threatening situation, infection) and it tells the liver to convert stored energy into sugar which is pumped into the bloodstream and then to the muscles for an extra burst of energy. At the same time insulin is pumped out of the pancreas to perform its primary function regulating this extra circulating blood sugar.
Too much sugar can’t be circulating around too long because it causes cellular damage, so insulin is ready and when the crisis calms down it clears any sugar you haven’t burned up. The immune system is mobilized to be ready to fight infection and control inflammation if you get injured. In addition, cortisol keeps the blood pressure elevated during the crisis. This whole stress response system works perfectly until it is triggered too often or just doesn’t ever turn off, meaning we barely get a rest from being on high alert.
All of these protective reactions help us in emergencies and high stress events but they eventually cause us harm when they do not stop and turn into chronic symptoms or even medical problems. It may change your hormones, digestion, immune system, metabolism, brain, mood and more!
What happens when we are constantly stressed
Chronic anxiety and sleep problems: never ending stress in the long run translates into feelings of oversensitivity, anxiety, feeling constantly overwhelmed, “wired”, and becoming sleep deprived. Exhaustion can lead to depression, cognitive problems, sugar cravings, weight gain and increases your risk of heart disease and other diseases.
Brain Fog:Sleep problems can cause difficulty with memory and concentration. Cortisol has some special actions in the brain that affect the memory and focus.
Digestive Function: when our bodies mobilize energy to fight or flight, it does so by diverting energy from other important functions, such as digestion. Over time this can lead to digestive symptoms, irritable bowel syndrome, and even damage to your microbiome.
Sugar/fat/salt cravings and belly fat: cortisol tells our bodies to store energy in case emergency happens and as a result chronically activated stress response makes the body hold on to calories and turns them into fat. This fat is stored preferentially around the waist and around the organs and excess fat gets stores as cholesterol all setting up for metabolic syndrome. You need more energy to keep up with the stress response reactions so you end up eating sugar and carbohydrates because they provide fast fuel and store the extra calories in the form of dangerous inflammatory fat around your waist.
Hormonal problems: when your stress response gets activated your body diverts energy from activities such as hormone production.
Immune system/autoimmune disease: temporary activation of your immune system can protect you from danger but long-term activation leads to all kinds of confusion in your immune system, resulting in different responses such as allergies, eczema, getting sick too often, and autoimmune diseases, decreased concentration and memory, excessive need for caffeine, fatigue, exhaustion, increased inflammation and pain, irritability and more.
Constant activation of the stress response leads to a tremendous amount of tear and wear on the body and premature aging.
Tips for restful sleep and relaxation
Avoid caffeine after 2 p.m., including chocolate if you are senstive
Skip daytime naps
Exercise for at least twenty minutes daily (but not within three hours of bedtime)
Avoid eating within three hours of bedtime
Drink less fluids within two hours of bedtime
Power down from all electronics, stimulating conversations and activities one hour before bed. Instead, read a relaxing book.
Try to not worry about anything within forty-five minutes of bedtime. Brainstorm your next day to-do list if needed to not worry that you will forget
Take a hot bath before bed to relax your mind and muscles. Add some epsom salt and several drops of relaxing High Altitude French Lavender, Sacred Frankincense, Peace or Quality Sleep blend essential oils.
Reset your circadian rhythm by getting up at the same time every day, preferably no later than 7 a.m. and getting to sleep at the same time each evening, preferably by 11 p.m.
Written by Lena Isayev, B.A., C.A.