Stress & Your Hormones
Adrenaline and cortisol are the two hormones that regulate the sympathetic nervous system and influence mood, energy, sleep, and mental functioning. The amount of each hormone the adrenal glands produce directly corresponds to the amount of stress you experience. Chronic stress, defined as “stress that lasts for more than three months,” can upset your hormone balance at any age. Examples include daily time-management issues (having too much to do and not enough time!); juggling work and family issues; being laid off or looking for work; financial troubles; loss of a parent or child; divorce or separation; difficulty with teenagers, or caring for children with physical or mental challenges; caregiving for aging parents; and many more.
How does stress impact hormone levels? When your brain perceives a threat — anything from seeing your toddler reach for a hot pan, or sensing the car in front of you swerve suddenly — your adrenal glands pump out adrenaline. Adrenaline, often called the “fight-or-flight” hormone, quickly signals your stored fat cells to release energy for dealing with the threat. The energy rush is intended to stimulate the body to run away or face the danger, and the adrenaline rush is supposed to recede when the stressful or threatening event is over. However, when the body experiences chronic stress, this healthy process does not work as intended. Instead of pumping out more adrenaline, chronic stress causes the adrenal glands to secrete more cortisol. Initially cortisol levels are elevated, but if stress is ongoing, the adrenal glands become exhausted over time, so that they are unable to produce even normal amounts of cortisol. When cortisol levels remain too high or too low for an extended period of time, the disequilibrium wreaks havoc on the body. Out-of-normal-range cortisol levels destroy healthy muscle and bone, slow down healing and normal cell regeneration, impair digestion, cause abdominal weight gain, lead to insulin resistance, dull mental processes, interfere with healthy endocrine function, and weaken your immune system.
Here’s what you need to know about stress:
(1) You can reverse stress-related hormone imbalance. With the targeted use of pharmaceutical-grade supplements and bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT), you can turn back the clock on the physical damage of stress. We all know that “stress kills,” so making stress management medicine and self-care a priority is vital: it can literally protect you from illness and help you live a longer and healthier life.
(2) You can prevent future stress from wreaking havoc on your health. By consistently caring for your body with healthy whole foods, regular exercise, steady hormone health, and an attitude of gratitude, you will be able to manage stress more easily. Nothing can prevent stress; however, you have the power to weaken or eliminate the impact of stress on your body and your life.
(3) Not all stress is bad. Recent research shows that our perception of stress plays a role in exacerbating its impacts. Therefore, one of your stress management techniques should be to change your outlook when stress inevitably arises in your life. It can be helpful to see your body’s stress reponse as a “partner” in helping you meet your challenges.