Stress is part of normal everyday life and it can be a wonderful catalyst for leading an active, healthy and purpose-driven life. But when stress runs out of control, we can lose the balance. When we can’t switch off or get away from the stuff that causes stress, our body had to work really hard to cope with the stress, and over time, it can have a huge effect on our health and well-being.
In this article I want to show you some of the key ways in which stress directly affects your energy levels. I want to set out how stress can leave you feeling low, depleted and even exhausted. Once we can truly understand the impact of letting stress run our life, we can find the inspiration to take back control and restore our health and energy.
Here are 5 ways in which stress can drive exhaustion.
1. Adrenal glands that are doing ‘hard labour’.
The adrenal glands are responsible for driving the ‘chronic stress response’ in our body. In other words they work overtime when we experience stress that goes on for a sustained period of time. The chronic stress response creates major changes in the body so that it can cope and survive! This includes how our body handles sugar, manages blood pressure, supports our immune system and many more adaptations. The sum total of all of this, is that it takes a huge amount of energy to keep all these plates spinning.
The body then has to make a choice. It has to prioritise where it spends its energy: keep the plates spinning and maintain the chronic stress response, or use some of the precious energy for the ‘fun stuff’ like going out and having a nice time with your friends, travelling, exercising, enjoying your evenings and weekends.
For our body it’s simple: it sees the chronic stress response as key to our very survival, so your body will prioritise that every single time. Over time, most of our energy is taken up by the chronic stress response and we are left feeling depleted, tired and exhausted. It means we lose our bounce, our sparkle and our sense of vitality. This is the compromise we have to make if we choose to stay stuck in chronic stress.
2. Less time for gorgeous self-care.
When we are exhausted, we lose the motivation to look after ourselves properly. We no longer go the extra mile. Whether that is cooking healthy food, planning meals or even go food shopping. We end up eating whatever happens to be in the cupboard. We tend to shrink ourselves down and would rather slump on the sofa with a large glass of wine, than go out to an exercise class, or do that fitness plan you had signed up to.
The truth is that when we feel stressed, overwhelmed and maxed out, all that good stuff just goes south! The more tired we feel, the less likely we are to take excellent care of ourselves. And you’ve guessed it, once the self-care goes out of the window, our energy levels sink even lower. It’s a self-perpetuating circle.
3. Stress drives food cravings, especially sugar cravings!
Its sad but oh so true. Part of the chronic stress response we talked about before literally generates carb cravings (You can learn about this in my free masterclass https://drmargriet.com/kick-the-carb-cravings-masterclass/). This means it is your survival response that is driving the show and making you want to eat all the sugary stuff: cakes, biscuits, bread, chocolate etc. Anything that will give your body the ‘quick hit’ of feeling a tiny bit more energetic from the sugar rush, only to fall back into the slump of the fatigue that sits underneath the carb cravings.
The really bitter pill here is that once your body has a taste of that sugar rush, it is biologically wired to want another hit. And another. So not only are you now carb craving because of the stress response, you are also caught up in the addictive powers of sugar itself. Another vicious circle!
4. Hard to relax, difficult to sleep.
When we are stressed, we feel wired, on edge and tetchy a lot of the time,. This makes it very difficult to unwind and connect with the relaxed state we need for falling asleep. And even if we do fall asleep, it is often a very light, easily disturbed sleep, full of intense dreams. When we are stressed, it’s very common to wake up feeling exhausted, just as if you haven’t slept.
Once our sleep pattern is regularly disturbed, or we go through a period of time where our sleep is very poor and unrefreshing, this of itself can become a source of chronic stress. When our adrenal glands are working hard, we need extra sleep, not less. It’s another catch 22 situation.
5. Lose our ability to ‘heal and repair’.
Our ability to heal and repair broken or damaged cells and tissues is vital. It’s a process that is going on in your body all of the time, including right now, as you read this article. The heal and repair process is what keeps us healthy, vital and fully functioning. This is what prevents premature ageing.
When we are locked into chronic stress, we lose our ability to access the ‘heal and repair’ opportunities. This means our bodies become less efficient. So whilst a short period of stress is ok, when it becomes a sustained ‘most of the time’ experience, how your body heals and repairs itself is fundamentally altered.
So there you have it: 5 ways in which stress drives fatigue and exhaustion. Feeling exhausted, depleted and like you’ve lost your spark are all signs of the same phenomenon: your chronic stress response is running the show! Yes, it’s trying to protect you but it also creates lots of unhelpful ‘vicious circles’, which make it harder for us to regain that vital balance.
Knowledge is power and now that you understand all of this, I hope you feel inspired to address your stress, and start taking back control. So here is a power question for you:
“What is one thing I can do today, to address my stress and start to turn things around?”
I hope you feel inspired to get going and start taking action today. Please feel free to leave a comment below. I love to hear about your thoughts and experiences and also your answer to the power question!!
Dr Margriet xx