“I’m So Stressed Out!”

Why Stress Management is So Crucial for Your Health and How We Can Help!

By Dr. Emily Dickerson,ND

Feeling burnt out, stressed out, over-extended and anxious? A likely culprit is cortisol. Cortisol is the body’s stress hormone and is secreted by the adrenal glands. Short-term cortisol elevation is a vital hormonal response to stress and is responsible for helping us through intense situations (i.e. the Fight or Flight mechanism). However, long-term elevated cortisol levels are common in today’s harried, plugged in society, and can be extremely detrimental to your health in a wide variety of ways.

Chronic stress and anxiety can interfere with many physiological functions:

Sleep – Elevated cortisol levels can cause insomnia, making it difficult to fall asleep or causing increased wakefulness throughout the night.

Digestion – You may have heard of the Gut-Brain Axis which refers to the biochemical signaling between the gastrointestinal tract and the nervous system. For example, one of the main causes of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) is chronic mental/emotional distress. Anxious or “Type A” individuals are at a higher risk of developing IBS due to increased cortisol levels and the subsequent stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. Additionally, the parasympathetic nervous system controls digestion, and does not function optimally when stressed or anxious.

Immune function – Chronic stress and chronically elevated cortisol levels can lead to decreased immune function and increased susceptibility to illnesses.

Energy – Chronic stress and anxiety can cause debilitating fatigue which is not alleviated by rest and sleep. Elevated cortisol levels are the root cause of Adrenal Fatigue, a condition caused by long-term elevated cortisol levels.

Weight maintenance – Excess cortisol stimulates the body to attempt to store more energy, causing a tendency to gain weight, or making it difficult to lose weight. Adrenal Fatigue is also associated with increased weight gain around the abdominal area, blood sugar imbalances, and cravings for salty and/or sweet foods.

Hormones – Chronic stress and/or anxiety can make menses much more challenging for women. This is based on the fact that the female hormone progesterone is a precursor to the hormone cortisol. Chronic elevated cortisol levels interfere with normal hormone levels, and cause symptoms of hormonal imbalances such as PMS and irregular bleeding.

Mood – Excess stress and anxiety can have an enormous impact on mood, causing individuals to experience feelings of increased irritability, anger, sadness, and increased anxiety. Additionally, recent studies have shown that prolonged stress can cause an imbalance in the beneficial bacteria of the gut (“microbiota”) which may be involved in the etiology of several mental/emotional disorders.

Knowing and controlling the effects of chronic stress and anxiety is crucial to our health and wellbeing!  Boise Natural Health offers evaluation, consultation, and individualized treatment for cortisol dysregulation, anxiety, and chronic stress. Call to schedule an appointment today at (208)338-0405.