Stressful moments, events and periods are a given in the human experience. Sometimes stress is short lived and other times it lingers longer than we would like.
In the modern world, more often than not, instead of dissipating, stress becomes integrated into our everyday lives. It becomes our normal state to such an extent that we may not be consciously aware that we are, in fact, stressed out.
This normalization of stress, and the amnesia of what life is like without stress is at the root of many chronic illnesses and mood disorders such as anxiety. This is because stressful thoughts change our biology. They elicit what we know as the stress response which increases cortisol, the major stress hormone.
Cortisol in the short term is beneficial but long-term increases in cortisol create a whole slew of downstream physiological effects not conducive to health.
Stress impacts every system of the body from digestion to immunity and contributes to states such as anxiety.
Being aware of our stress levels allows us to take the necessary steps to manage them. Take a look at 5 unconventional signs that the stress response is activated in your body and what to do about it.
5 Signs You Might Be Stressed Out
- You are not sleeping well
Stress levels influence our quality of sleep. Ruminating thoughts can make sleep seem elusive, but beyond that, there is a physiological reason stress interferes with getting adequate shut eye.
The stress response is known as ‘fight or flight’, and what happens is that blood pressure goes up, heart rate increases and your body is getting ready to physically run away from a stressor. Trying to sleep when the body is physiology ready to run often results in poor quality sleep.
Signs stress is impeding your sleep
- Restless sleeps
- Light sleeping (easily woken up)
- Waking up in the middle of the night multiple times
- Not waking up feeling rested
- Not dreaming
- Blood sugar levels are high
Inability to manage glucose levels adequately is known as hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). When blood sugar seems hard to get under control, despite dietary changes it’s more often than not indicative of high stress levels.
Blood sugar is related to stress because cortisol breaks down our storage of sugar (glycogen) into glucose which gets released into the blood. This consistently produces elevated blood sugar independent of dietary intake.
- Unexplained Weight gain
The hormones that are altered during the stress response promote fat storage and reduce the body’s fat burning capacity. Oftentimes individuals who have an activated stress response will have a hard time losing weight, even when diet and exercise are in the equation.
You can dive into all the nitty gritty details about stress and weight regulation here.
- Recurring/long lasting colds and flus
The stress response suppresses immunity. When this happens, the body is more susceptible to infections. We often see that colds and flus are recurring and the symptoms when an infection is present typically last longer and are more severe when stress is present.
- Needing coffee or sugar to curb that 3pm crash
This is a sign that the HPA axis, which governs the stress response, is burnt out. Oftentimes when there is a long-term stress response instead of feeling the racing mind and anxiety prone thoughts, energy dips and we see more of a lethargic type of presentation which is mitigated through caffeine or sugar.
Adaptogens to the Rescue
Adaptogens are herbs that are best known for improving the body's reaction to stress. When working to lower chronic stress levels, using adaptogens can have a profound impact. They are low effort with a high pay off. Our current, backed by research favorites are functional mushrooms and rhodiola.
Used in nearly ancient civilization, functional mushrooms reduce cortisol in the body and nourish the adrenal glands. They primarily work on what is called the HPA axis, which reduces the physiologic response of stress through hormone regulation. AOR’s mushroom synergy is a blend of seven functional mushrooms with 2 added adaptogens to provide a well rounded solution to increased stress responses!
Also shown to reduce cortisol levels through the body by influencing enzymatic action, rhodiola is a potent herb indicated in managing stress.
In addition to working on the actual stress response, rhodiola helps increase sensitivity to dopamine and serotonin, which can improve mood!
Research has shown rhodiola to be efficacious in soothing anxiety that can often accompany stress. Rhoziva is a Canadian made, potent and powerful extract of rhodiola, check it out here!
When it comes to stress, if we don’t feel stressed, does it matter if we are stressed? It does. Even if we are not registering stress in our mind, the stress response is active in the body. Stress often shows up in ways that we don’t associate with stress. You can read how stress affects the body in greater detail here. Assessing if we are stressed, and taking measures to reduce it can lead to an increased quality and perception of life. Perhaps more importantly, it is one of the best preventative health strategies we can implement!
Author: Lisa Kowalyk, CNP, B.Kin