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how to tap out of the chronic stress loop



It's no secret chronic stress [whether emotional or physical] has wide-ranging + negative impacts on health. In fact, stress has the ability to affect every area of our lives [physical, emotional, spiritual, social] and similarly, every area of our lives is able to induce stress. We are designed for short bursts of stress but it's the long stretches of unrelenting stress that begin to wear on our bodies from cell to soul. 


what happens when we are stressed?

When we encounter something emotionally or physically stressful [i.e a project deadline, loss of a family member, physical danger], our adrenal glands stimulate the secretion of cortisol - a hormone designed to do the following:

  • sharpen senses + perceptions → so we can tune into potential threats around us

  • induce sweating → so our body is cool in the case of exertion

  • release hormones that make the blood “stickier” → so we will lose less blood if injured

  • stop digestion → so we can preserve our energy for running / fighting

  • increase blood flow to muscles → so they are ready for action

  • increase heart rate + blood pressure → so we can exert a large amount of energy if needed

  • increase breath rate → so our blood has lots of oxygen

  • stimulate the release of glucose into the blood to increase blood sugar → so cells have energy at the ready

  • suppress reproductive hormones → so we do not bring new life into a stressful environment


In the case of an acute [short-term] stressor, these reactions are good - our bodies are designed to adapt to + receive feedback from stress so we can face it more resiliently the next time it comes around! 


is cortisol always bad?

No. Cortisol has many important functions in the body that are highly useful. In fact, our bodies secrete cortisol every morning to gently wake us up and prepare us to start the day. Cortisol also helps to regulate blood pressure, maintain the immune system and metabolism + quell inflammation. Without cortisol, we would not be our vibrant + energetic selves - it is, quite frankly, a critical life force hormone that is necessary to survive. Too much of a good thing is simply too much of a good thing; and when exposed to chronic stress over time cortisol becomes dys-regulated. 


what are the effects of chronic stress?

Long-term elevated levels of cortisol [in the case of chronic stress] can lead to the following:

  • stimulation of fat deposits → weight gain

  • increased blood pressure → hypertension

  • increased protein breakdown → loss of lean muscle mass

  • demineralization of bone → weak bones

  • suppression of the immune system → illness

  • memory loss [hippocampus] → cognitive decline

  • depression → lack of motivation, desire + drive

  • increased blood sugar → hyperglycemia

  • decreased libido + fertility → miscarriage or amenorrhea


how can I tap out of the chronic stress loop?

  1. protect your daily check in / pause

  • check in with yourself 3-5 times per day to notice how you’re feeling

  • choose one of the 6 core emotions [happy, sad, surprised, fearful, disgusted, angry] to distill your emotion down to the root

  1. relish in the consistency of routine

  • consider which habits you can keep at the same time each and every day [i.e sleep / wake schedule, exercise, meals, etc] and stick to them as best as you can

  1. be realistic about your capacity within each day

  • when taking on projects or planning out your time, realistically consider what you can handle without feeling overwhelmed

  1. step out for a walk in the sunshine

  • aim to step outside for a 5-10 minute walk during the day whenever possible, especially after a stressful meeting, email or event, to remind your body it is safe


Over in our online membership The Table, we are dedicating three full months to the recalibration of cortisol which translates to resilient energy, sound sleep, and a deep sense of grounded peace. We'll be sharing nuggets of wisdom over on Instagram so be sure to follow along and join the waitlist for the next session dedicated to your superpowers: your sex hormones. 


references:

Aronson, D. (2009, November). Cortisol - its role in stress, inflammation, and indications for diet therapy. Today’s Dietitian. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/111609p38.shtml

Cleveland Clinic. (2021). Cortisol: What It Is, Function & Symptoms. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22187-cortisol

Nepomnaschy, P. A., Welch, K., McConnell, D., Strassmann, B. I., & England, B. G. (2004). Stress and female reproductive function: A study of daily variations in cortisol, gonadotrophins, and gonadal steroids in a rural Mayan population. American Journal of Human Biology, 16(5), 523–532. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajhb.20057

Ralph, C. R., Lehman, M. N., Goodman, R. L., & Tilbrook, A. J. (2016). Impact of psychosocial stress on gonadotrophins and sexual behaviour in females: Role for cortisol? Reproduction, 152(1), R1–R14. https://doi.org/10.1530/rep-15-0604

University of California - Berkeley. (2009, June 29). Stress puts double whammy on reproductive system, fertility. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 31, 2024, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090615171618.htm




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