Stress is something we all deal with from time to time. It makes small tasks seem monumental and minor setbacks feel like the biggest of blows. Short-term stress can surprisingly be a good thing, encouraging growth, motivation, and maybe even nudging us out of our ever-cozy, delicately cultivated comfort zones. It’s chronic stress—long-term, consistently overwhelming—that is truly toxic to our bodies and minds.
Lately, I have noticed an increase in chronic stress levels among my new clients. I often find that many of their physiological health issues, whether it be skin problems, fatigue, hormone imbalance, an unhappy gut, could be effectively managed through more mindful management of their mental health. Don’t get me wrong—the increasing level of anxiousness and stress today makes sense, and I have felt it, too. There is so much uncertainty all around us lately. The key is to discover the tools that enable you to remain calm among the storm of today’s world. With the holidays coming up, we could all use an extra boost of self-care, right?
A few effects of chronic stress of the body:
Immunity: Toxic stress can wreak havoc on your body in the same way a toxic diet can. It affects all body systems, inside and out. The immune system, for example, has a lowered ability to fight infection when we’re stressed. In a 10-year study conducted by immunologist Ronald Glaser and psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, the effects of stress on medical students were examined. Each year during exam periods, they found that students had a significantly reduced number of killer T-cells—which are vital in fighting infections. So while it’s normal to feel stress before something like an exam or a work presentation (once over, your body begins producing adequate T-cells again), imagine an immune system after months or even years of high-level stress.
Digestive System: You’ve probably heard me talk about your “second brain,” also known as the enteric nervous system or ENS. Usually this is explained in terms of certain neurotransmitters that have recently been discovered to be produced in the gut, making diet even more important. What’s important to remember, though, is that this connection is symbiotic. Although the food you eat affects your mental health, the thoughts you think and the stress you carry also affects your digestive health! The ENS is deeply affected by emotions and stress, with negative shifts leading to issues such as constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, pain, and beyond.
Mental Health: This one may be obvious, but nonetheless essential to cover. Chronic stress can lead to mental health problems that slowly wreak havoc on your overall happiness and satisfaction. Therefore, it is so important to not only manage your stress but, if it’s bad enough, really do some digging and introspection to find out its source. Are you settling for less than you deserve in a job, relationship, or otherwise? Are you advocating for yourself daily? Make it a habit to check in with yourself and meditate on your wellbeing. Remember: the only way you can show up for others is to first show up for yourself.
Adrenal glands: If you find yourself constantly searching for your next caffeine hit but have no other diagnosed health issue, then you could be suffering from Adrenal Fatigue. Two small but mighty glands located just above your kidneys, your adrenals are responsible for releasing the hormones that help cope with stress the most when in balance: cortisol and adrenaline. However, when faced with chronic stress the adrenals can dysregulate, releasing cortisol at the wrong times. Brain fog and inflammation can result, leading to even more health problems down the line.
Okay, now for the good news. There are SO many ways to not only manage your stress levels, but significantly reduce them too, both physically and mentally. Here’s are some key recommendations I give to my clients:
Practice Mindfulness: I believe mindful living is the number one way to prevent chronic stress. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present moment. This means not ruminating on the past and not fretting about the future. I know—easier said than done! But there are tools to help. Yoga, meditation, journaling, taking a nature walk, and breathing exercises are great ways to increase mindful living.
Supplement Up: Supplements can be life-changing tools in the management of stress. My favorite for overall stress is Thorne’s Stress B-Complex. From improving mood, to feeling energetic, to promoting brain health, B vitamins are crucial in regulating stress. This Thorne supplement contains all eight B vitamins (some in multiple forms to ensure absorption), plus the addition of Choline. I especially love that Thorne’s Folate is in its active form, L-5-MTHF, so even individuals with an MTHFR mutation will benefit. My other two go-to stress supplements both support the adrenals immensely: Thorne’s Phytisone and Cortrex. Phytisone combines key adaptogenic botanicals and nutrients that optimize the adrenals and support brain health and energy production. Phytisone includes Ashwagandha, which is one of my personal favorite botanicals. Cortrex combines adrenal glandular tissue and nutrients to support the adrenal glands. I like to take Cortrex during a hectic work week or when my anxiousness is high, because it helps ward off brain fog and keeps me feeling energized.
Get Moving: Not only is exercise crucial for healthy detoxification and overall health, exercise is key in managing mental health. It boosts endorphins, regulates physical body systems, improves mood, and helps jumpstart feelings of overall relaxation throughout your nervous system. You can reap these benefits with just about any movement—hiking, swimming, cycling, dancing, or beyond—so don’t overthink it, just get moving, wherever you’re at in your journey.
Test Your Stress: If stress has been a part of your life for a while now, then you might not even realize just how stressed you and your body are. This is where Thorne’s Stress Test comes in. If you experience some of the following, then you might want to consider taking this test: you crave sugar and/or caffeine often, you feel more irritable than normal, you have a high-stress job, or you feel tired but wired. Let me tell you; I have been there, done that, with all of those. Don’t wait until you’re run-down and ill to take control of your mental health. Thorne’s Stress Test measures your cortisol and DHEA levels (adrenal hormones) through a simple saliva test. You’ll receive an improvement plan with diet, activity, and supplement recommendations based on your results.
As tempting as it is to believe, the secret to managing stress does not lie in solving the world’s problems or checking off the day’s to-do boxes. It lies in being okay with the chaos around us and learning to find our calm amid the storm. In times such as these (including a fluctuating global pandemic), it is entirely normal to be more anxious and stressed out, and it is healthy to seek assistance with managing these feelings. If you’re feeling extra stressed lately, then don’t wait to get help until it takes a toll on your health. Book a one-on-one video session with me so we can get you feeling relaxed and resilient.