With bulging social diaries, ever-growing work commitments and family lives to juggle, most of us are leading increasingly stressful lives.
Trust me, I get it. I’ve been there, and I understand just how stressful life can be. But all the pressures of our modern lifestyle such as working long hours, deadlines, eating on the run and the sheer speed at which we live can cause heavy strain and stress on the body. I see this a lot in my clinic, we have reached an all-time high in the stress epidemic and, unfortunately, it’s having catastrophic effects on our hormonal health, something I speak about in great detail in my book The Balance Plan.
We are spinning so many plates in the air and it’s become the ‘new normal’, but we have to stop and think – what is this stress doing to our health and hormones? You see, stress (especially when it’s constant) actually affects every part of our body; our health, our hormones, manifesting in mood swings, poor sleep, lack of libido and weight gain (hello belly fat and muffin top).
It’s important to know that not all stress is bad. In fact, stress equals life in acute situations! In prehistoric times, stress mostly came in the form of threats to our survival. Because of this, we developed the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, which would tell our bodies that we needed to run, or fight for our lives. Our stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) can override the any other message in the body and affect how it works, and so it should to get you out of dangers way. Short-term, this is positive!
Today, even though we are no longer are faced with grizzly bears (though your angry boss may look like one at times), and modern stressors now come from emails and deadlines, our bodies still experience the same changes as if faced with that grizzly bear. Over a long stretch, this has a deeply negative effect.
Lets look at a few of these a little closer:
When we react to stress, our bodies release the hormone cortisol, AKA the stress hormone. In fight or flight situations (for example, if we were running from a bear or lion!), this is a good thing. However, in our day-to-day lives, where stress has become chronic, it can cause mayhem. For starters, high levels of cortisol can cause our hormones to go haywire, depleting our levels of other necessary hormones – think oestrogen or progesterone, which is why your libido can plummet and women can miss periods during times of stress.
Too much cortisol can also suppress thyroid hormone (this can trigger digestive and metabolism issues), can also make the body resistant to insulin and even leads to soaring levels of androgens – this can lead to acne flare-ups and even hair loss.
When we’re stressed, our minds tend to be switched on at night. It races through the day, tortures us with ‘what ifs’ and keeps us up at all hours as we run through the next day’s important meeting or presentation. Unfortunately, stress goes hand-in-hand with insomnia, causing us to get less sleep and even worse quality sleep.
Unfortunately, for some of us, stress can also cause that dreaded muffin top. The problem is, too much cortisol can wreak havoc on insulin levels (this is what can lead to weight gain around the middle). On top of this, it can increase our appetite and make us crave sugary and fatty foods – this is why you’re likely to reach for bumper bars of chocolate rather than apples when you’re stressed!
If you’re feeling as though you’re riding an emotional rollercoaster, it could also be the result of stress. Too much stress can leave us feeling exhausted, snappy, irritable, anxious, sad or even depressed. If you are suffering with your moods, no matter what the cause, always seek advice from your GP first.