by Ashley Ess May 01, 2023 4 min read

Stress affects every area of our health. The body is designed to handle "good" stress and even occasional stressful events, but when stress becomes chronic, it can take a toll.

An imbalance of cortisol, also known as the "fight or flight" hormone, is a key factor in how stress affects us. Let's take a closer look at the cortisol connection to the body's stress response.

How the Stress Response Works

Stress can come in various forms, prompted by real or perceived environmental or physiological stressors. Perceived stressors (not real, physical threats) may include feeling worried about your work demands, financial worries or an emotional crisis with a loved one. Physiological stressors include food sensitivities, imbalances in the gut microbiome or exposure to viruses.

The body reacts to stress by releasing hormones including adrenaline and cortisol. The brain (central nervous system) receives a sign of stress, it shifts into stress response mode and signals the body to start producing the specific hormones that give us the energy needed to take action immediately. This is essential for running from danger but not as effective for dealing with everyday stressors. In a healthy stress response, once the stress subsides, the hormonal effect should decrease and restore to a more calm balanced state.

Chronic stress however, can lead to prolonged elevated levels of cortisol, where the body remains in a heightened state of stress and isn't able to down regulate the effects of continued stress. This can start to take it's toll on the the body by decreasing the ability to handle stress and creating an imbalance in hormones, which play a key role in many other functions including sleep, mood and blood sugar regulation.

The Effects of Chronic Stress

Chronic stress can lead to serious health issues, but can also show signs in the short-term. Immediate reactions to stress increase heart and breath rate, forcing the lungs to work harder. Stress can also affect metabolic rate; it slows the digestive process and the body can start to break down muscle for energy if there is not enough body fat for fuel. Persistent stress activates an increased production of cortisol; if chronic stress is not resolved over time, the body may also retain sodium and water from an imbalance in electrolytes, you may experience headaches, mood issues, eye strain, digestive upsets, skin rashes or more serious autoimmune issues.

When cortisol levels are imbalanced, it can lead to:

  • Blood sugar dysregulation
  • Decreased insulin sensitivity
  • Decreased growth hormone production
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Thyroidissues
  • Lowered immunity
  • Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
  • Brain fog
  • Low libido

When looking at the cortisol connection to stress, an imbalance is not only when levels are high. An imbalance can also come from too-low level of the hormone, leading to decreased energy levels, deregulated heart rate, flu-like symptoms and low tolerance to exercise.

How To Balance Stress Hormones

So, how do we approach the effects of chronic stress to best support balanced hormone levels and a strong stress response?

In order to support the body and reset how we respond to stressors, it is important to address the underlying root cause. The first step is a self-assessment and awareness of your symptoms, identify potential stressors, possible hormonal imbalances and how to best support your body using a targeted approach of diet and lifestyle recommendations right for you.

A simple at-home lab test can help eliminate the guess work and provide the support you need to rebalance your hormones and your health:

Once you understand your hormone levels, working alongside a certified health practitioner can help to rebalance your body.. In addition to testing, supportive supplementation and a nutritious whole food diet, you can also take a few simple steps daily to support your body's reaction to stressful situations and prevent chronic stress from taking hold. Incorporate daily movement and exercise, prioritize restful sleep and consider implementing restorative practices like meditation, tai chi, yoga, journaling or spending more time in nature.

Reversing the effects of stress on the body is not an overnight process. But with personal guidance and an effective targeted approach it is possible to get your health back on track and feel your best.

Chronic stress is one of the underlying root causes of many dis-eases of the body. To understand how stress influences our digestion, electrolytes, nervous system and immune function and 7 easy self-care tips to support the mind and body - listen to this podcast.

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