Welcome to Part 2 of this blog series on stress basics: your power guide to managing stress with ease and confidence.
In Part 1 we discovered that not all stress is bad and that it is in fact, absolutely essential for our survival. And if we really want to thrive and flourish in life, we need to learn to embrace stress and work with it in a really positive way.
You now know exactly what the sympathetic stress response looks like and that its strength lies in being a short term solution. It is vital to balance this fight flight acute stress response with its partner in crime, the parasympathetic response.
You have by now also started to cultivate and become aware of your personal acute stress triggers.
What Happens if The Stress is There to Stay?
Being aware of what, where and how your acute stress response gets triggered is a huge step in the right direction, when it comes to being the boss of your stress levels. After all, understanding and awareness opens the door to being able to change things.
But what happens if you don’t take action on the stuff that creates stress in your life? What if you simply ignore it, or tell yourself that ‘it doesn’t matter’ and it will be ok, if you just keep pushing through all those challenges, stresses and strains?
We already know the body can change gear, and switch up from the acute fight flight response up into the cortisol chronic stress response. This is fine for a while, say a few days, maybe even a few weeks. There is after all, a good reason that we have this back up system , this reserve parachute for coping with stress on a longer term basis.
But what happens if our stress lasts longer than a few weeks? What is it goes on for a few months, or even a few years? What are the consequences of walking around with a permanently stimulated cortisol stress response? Is it good or bad for us?
Let’s take a look and you can decide for yourself if you want to live there or not!
The High Cortisol Syndrome
The hormone cortisol does some very important jobs in the body, when it comes to holding you safe and allowing you to ride those waves of coping with high levels of stress.
Here are some of the classic outcomes of having a persistently raised cortisol level. You might be able to relate to some of these!
- Cortisol belly – this is the stubborn fat around your waist that wont shift no matter what you do. So many of us try to tackle this by going on (yet another) diet, or exercising even more. This is like trying to put out a fire with a hammer- it is simply the wrong tool for the job!
- Sugar, carb and salt cravings – ever wondered why willpower simply doesn’t work when you want to eat the fridge? When you are tired and all you want is the whole tub of ice cream, or to eat that jumbo pack of salty crisps? Those food cravings are driven by your high cortisol, and it is high for a reason! And no matter how much you tell yourself off for ‘ being bad’ when you have fallen off the wagon yet again, until you tackle the real root of the problem of your underlying stress stuff, all you will achieve is feeling even more guilt, shame and worthlessness.
- Digestive tract issues eg worsening IBS, dyspepsia, constipation. Yes . really, that chronic stress response plays havoc with gut health, and simply starting to take proper care of your stress levels will play a powerful part on how your IBS, your leaky gut symptoms, your constipation and your indigestion symptoms play out.
- Moodiness, irritability. High cortisol literally creates irritability, anxiousness and depression. And that is on top of whatever is stressing you out in the first place.
- Feeling depressed – even though you tell yourself you should be grateful for all that you have in your life. That chronic stress response, that raised cortisol directly impacts your ability to feel happy, content or peaceful.
- Chronic pain – everything hurts and aches and you generally feel much older than your age!
- Elevated blood pressure – over time this can become hypertension
- Poorly regulated blood sugar, which over time can become type 2 diabetes.
- Poor memory
- Affect your immune system
So if you can identify with some of the things on this list, then you need to read on! Because it could be that your body is stuck in the chronic stress response, and badly needs you to take action to turn things around!!
The New Set Point.
Once the body has shifted from the ‘sprint’ of the acute moment to moment response, into the ‘ marathon runner’ pace of the high cortisol response, it creates a new ‘set point’ for itself. And the big impact of this new set point is that, if it continues on, eventually it becomes ‘ hard-wired’ in. In other words it becomes the new ‘normal’
Think about this for a moment. What this means is your body thinks it is NORMAL to live with a high cortisol response, which means all those things in the list above, become NORMAL . Which means all those fallout effects of that high cortisol are there to stay and will progress over time.
Does That Mean What I Think it Does?
Yes, that means your cortisol belly will grow and grow. And not only that, you will put yourself at risk of the kind of overweight health that drives chronic inflammation, is pro-estrogenic (read my healthy estrogen blog here), puts you at much higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and the downstream consequences of those which include Alzheimer’s, stroke, heart attack)
So I have to ask you: are you ready to pay this price with your health?
💓To lose your energy and your sense of wellbeing?
💓To lose your joy, spark and sense of optimism?
💓To lose your motivation?
💓To lose your body confidence as your waistline disappears?
💓To lose your spark and your joy for life?
💓To put yourself at real risk of chronic health conditions like Type 2 diabetes?
💓High blood pressure? Alzheimers? Heart attack, stroke?
💓Being someone who has to take a whole raft of medication every day just to manage all those chronic symptoms? Like anti-depressants, blood pressure meds, IBS meds, antacids, sleep meds, HRT…. the list goes on.
This is what being in a high cortisol state does to your health over time. It might not be this week or this month, but over time that is what you are buying into, by allowing that chronic stress stuff to run your heart, body and soul.
It’s a high price to pay!
Help! Tell Me What To Do!!
High cortisol, chronic stress response, hard-wiring, and an elevated set-point. Losing your energy, vitality and joy. Chronic health conditions. It all sounds a bit depressing doesn’t it?
So is there hope? Can the body unwind out of that hardwired chronic stress response? Can it wind back the set-point to a healthier level? Can you find your way back to balance within your system?
The answer is fundamentally “HELL YES!”
Your body wants to be healthy. It wants to be in balance and it wants to heal and repair, and get out of yuck and stuck.
For some of us the road to recovery might take a while – it really depends on how long you have been stuck in chronic stress response, how severe it has been and how much support you give your health to recover.
It’s not a quick fix, but there is definitely a roadmap back to health.
So there is a roadmap back to awesome and incredible health. The kind of health where you wake up every morning feeling vibrant, confident and buzzing. Where you feel happy from the inside out, where you feel fit and dynamic. The kind of life where feeling inspired and motivated is simply your normal.
And yes, you have your fair share of stresses and strains. Who doesn’t?! But they no longer get to rule your life, or determine how much energy you get to have. Or how vibrant and well you get to feel.
The full roadmap is an exciting road to travel: a thrilling journey of self discovery, gorgeous self care and falling back in love with your health and your life.
It’s a big intercontinental journey that’s far too big to set out right here. So for now, let’s introduce you to the mini roadmap, or to put it more accurately, the short cuts!
My 3 Top Short Cuts to Restoring Your Energy, Vitality and Joy
Here are 3 action steps you can take today to start helping yourself and get to the root of the problem.
1 Actively Tackle Your Acute Stress
We tend to make the very rash assumption that there is little we can do to tackle or control our stress. We tend to think it is normal and we just have to put up with it. It’s so ingrained into modern day living. But as you now know, it is far from normal and not at all ok if we want our energy ,joy and vitality to shine.
One helpful strategy is to actively tackle your acute stress stuff. Here is an exercise to help you get started:
Take a piece of paper, and for each hour of the day, give yourself a score out of 5 of how stressed you felt. 5 is the most stressed ever, and 0 is no stress at all. Start from the time you get up, to the time you went to bed. You can include the night time if this is also a time of stress for you.
And just take a look where you scored 3 or over. What is going on at those times. What is it that puts you into a state of stress? Are there any patterns? Any obvious common threads?
Then pick one and ask yourself how could I take the score down by 1 or 2 points?
Do this exercise in the next 24 hours after reading this. It can give you some powerful insights and some real breakthroughs.
2 Put The Balance Back Into Your Life
What does your version of parasympathetic look like?
We now know that relaxation, ease and pleasure are no longer a luxury, something you do when there are no other demands on your time. Deliberately and consciously putting the parasympathetic stuff back into the mix now becomes a crucial part of your personal health programme!! I often wish I could write a prescription for ‘parasympathetic time’. It’s so easy for us to dismiss this need of ours. Instead we push on, work super hard, and stay stuck.
So rest, restoration, ease, times where you do that Italian thing ‘la dolce far niente’. Making time for time out. Making time for what truly gives you joy, pleasure, nurtures and nourishes you. It’s not a luxury. It’s an essential way to support your health, prevent you from going into the chronic stress response and get hard-wired into that place of high cortisol. And all the fall-out that creates which you are now an expert in!
So ask yourself: what is one thing I could do, to start my parasympathetic prescription today?
3 Support Your Adrenal Glands
Your adrenal glands work hard in both the acute and chronic stress response states. And if we don’t take care of them, they can end up exhausted. Some people like to call this adrenal burnout or adrenal fatigue. In functional medicine we call this HPA axis dysfunction! Not very sexy!!
The three power players in supporting adrenal health are:
- Good sugar detox work (read my blog on healthy eating)
- Healthy diet with lots of green leafy veg (our main source of magnesium) and if you are worried about magnesium , take a good quality supplement.
Decide which one you are going to make your priority this week and write it down. You don’t need to do them all at once, but you do need to make a start.
Choose The Future You Really Want
I hope you are feeling excited and motivated about tackling this stress stuff.
Here are the key points again:
⭐Stress is part of every day life and we need to learn how to actively work with it, not just ‘put up with it’
⭐We have a fantastic 2 speed stress response system: the acute and the chronic response, that are incredibly powerful and literally life-saving!
⭐There are real and serious health consequences to living in a high cortisol state.
⭐The biggest price we pay for staying in the chronic stress response is that we lose our energy vitality and joy and life becomes about simply surviving instead of thriving.
And so the biggest piece of life wisdom I can give you is that you have to DECIDE what you really and truly want for your health and for your life.
You get to CHOOSE
You get to DECIDE
What you really really want. For you, for your health and for your life.
No one else can make that decision for you. YOU have to CHOOSE.
And if you choose energy, full joy, incredible vibrancy, having the next 10 years of your life be your very best yet, AND you are still wondering what that big intercontinental roadmap of energy recovery work looks like, then pop over to my Energy Catalyst page.
Please drop me a line to let me know how you got on with this article and any thoughts, comments, inspiration or ideas that you got from it. I really do love to hear from you.