Jeff Foxworthy is one of my favorite comedians who states the obvious signs of being a Redneck to those who may be oblivious of their “unique” lifestyle. And just as Jeff hilariously points out (yes, I’m on a first-name-only basis here) the identifying traits of this particular crowd he is referencing, I am going to share some signs or symptoms that you might be experiencing which could be referred to as symptoms of stress and you may be oblivious.
This “stress” topic isn’t new if you are a human. Who might be a woman. And probably has a career. And a family. And you need to bring treats for the classroom party. And you’re trying to make healthy meals for your family but the kids have soccer practice 4 days of the week during dinner time. And you have to schedule your dentist appointment that you are 8 months late for. And you have a list of Q2 goals to yet be accomplished for your business, which happens to be as long as the trail of toilet paper that your toddler has decoratively placed throughout your entire house. And you aren’t sure when the last time you stepped inside the gym was; but it’s ok because workout clothes aren’t even for working out, right? And you grocery shop at 9 PM because your kids are finally sleeping and when else can you fit it in? And you slept a solid 5 hours last night and you texted your BFF with “#winning” to celebrate that achievement. And you are trying really hard to build your online presence and create leads that convert into sales. And you have so many dreams and goals for your business and your family and you just need to stay awake a little bit longer to finish this project. And by the time date night with your hubby has been scheduled, you are trying so hard to keep your eyes open and NOT talk about the kids…and sexy time is a distant thought. You know stress and it has become a close friend.
Did I just hear someone yell “PREACH!!!”? Was that a little close? This is the reality of a busy woman balancing her career along with her family's needs and her struggling health and EVERYTHING! I am not discounting the stress men hold one single bit because I know they struggle with it also. Men carry a heavy burden to provide and care for their family. I love my husband immensely for all he is and the way he tries to take things off my plate so I can relax. High five to those men who support women as they strive to become better women! Nonetheless, the difference between men and women is that men can often compartmentalize segments of their life. All things tend to run together like the muddied watercolor that your preschooler painted you for Mother’s Day last year (it’s your most favorite gift ever!) for most of us women. While I am supposed to be “relaxing, dropping my stress and anxiety and getting centered” in my yoga class as I contort my body into positions that aren’t meant to be experienced by humans not made of clay, the voices in my head are screaming out every single item that I must complete in the next two weeks. I feel the stress and anxiety of all that I need to do and what I feel that I am doing well build within me but I continue to suppress. Can you relate? Women allow their stressors to accumulate to the point of burn-out or severe sickness, which forces us to take a time-out. And that is the WORST.
But maybe if you could recognize some of the signs of a burnout BEFORE the breakdown or sickness came, then you can gain control of your health and take the steps necessary to prevent or get treated for Adrenal Fatigue? And now, you might be wondering "Adrenal what??”. Or maybe you have heard of it but don’t quite have a grasp of how it would apply to you, or IF it applies to you? Let me break it down for you, and you let me know if I just described you!
Adrenal Fatigue is best explained when you understand the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis and how stress plays a role. Think of the hypothalamus as the Godfather with regard to how and when your body will produce hormones. The hypothalamus always has a pulse on what is happening within the body. It’s running the whole show. It is constantly reading the environment and the messages that other parts of your body send regarding your current hormone levels. The pituitary gland is the Luca Brasi, the manager if you will, that responds to the Godfather to let the specific members of the “family” (adrenal, thyroid, and gonad glands) know what hormones they need to release in response to the “danger". Maybe using the Godfather was a lame analogy, but I think you are getting the point. These hormones are responding to “stress” to keep your body functioning as efficiently as it is supposed to.
When there is an immediate danger, The Godfather (hypothalamus) can sense the stress and now issues an order for a hormone cascade which initiates your fight or flight response. Now, instead of your body using energy to relax, regenerate, metabolizing nutrients for energy and digesting it has to shift from parasympathetic state to SURVIVAL or sympathetic state by responding to the stress-induced state with an increase of cortisol and adrenaline. Then, once the danger is gone, you are no longer running from the lion and you were able to recover from stubbing your toe on the coffee table, the levels of adrenaline and cortisol go back to normal levels and your body can return to its parasympathetic state which focuses on your body’s necessary functions and maintenance to keep you healthy.
In situations of chronic stress (not necessarily life-threatening but still a stressor) like an over-booked schedule, financial strife, a difficult relationship, a death in the family, this will lead to a constant demand for those stress hormones, specifically cortisol. Your body can’t differentiate between a life or death situation or locking your keys in your car. It senses the stress and responds to your emotional response to a dirty kitchen as it would if you were in a car accident. When this is a constant state of being for you, your other hormones will be decreased in production. Your body has been in the flight-or-fight state for a prolonged amount of time. It is not regenerating, digesting efficiently, making essential hormones, repairing itself or producing energy. The micronutrients in your body are being burned up quickly and the HPA axis becomes overwhelmed and can no longer respond to stressors and just gives up in sending messages to the adrenal glands to produce more hormones. At this point, there are not any more nutrients to help your adrenal glands function and you have reached adrenal fatigue.
So what are the 5 ways that stress manifests itself in your body??
1. Fatigue/Low Energy
I am talking like drop-dead tired. Take a 3-hour nap in the middle of the day tired. Getting dressed wears you out. Forget about exercising. The simple task of staying awake and alert for more than 4 hours is a feat of strength. I remember wanting to crawl under my desk and totally wanting to take a nap when I went back to work full-time after being a stay-at-home mom for 11 years. I was also going through a divorce. I became a single mom to three kids. I had to put my photography business on hold because I just couldn’t manage it all anymore. I was highly emotional and never felt rested. I am not even sure how I made it through a work day without totally crashing out at my desk. I did go to my car once and fell asleep on my lunch break. The blessing? I was working for THE leading voice and thought leader in the health and wellness industry for ADRENAL FATIGUE! I had NO idea why I felt so tired and run-down for YEARS before I started working for Dr. James L. Wilson….and then all my symptoms had a name and I was able to start my journey to recovery. Now I get to inform and educate you as we start on your journey to wellness!
2. Digestive Issues
When I say digestive issues, this can mean anything. Basically, normal digestive function is out. You may be a too-frequent, card-carrying bathroom goer or it could be totally opposite and your bathroom trips are as frequent as Halley’s Comet. Or it could be the combo of BOTH! How unfair is that? You could also experience any of the following:
- stomach discomfort/bloating or pain after eating
- heartburn or indigestion
- food sensitivities or intolerances that you previously hadn’t experienced.
Your body may be switching from a parasympathetic to a sympathetic state frequently or just staying in the sympathetic state and that affects digestion! Instead of breaking down food for nutrients and digesting properly, your body is trying to keep you alive. If you add highly processed foods, sugar, and alcohol to your diet or any other foods which are typically known as inflammatory, it’s like throwing gasoline on the fire. You are only creating more of a burden for your body.
This one is the kicker. You would think since you are so dang tired all day long, sleep is a non-issue, right? WRONG. When someone is suffering from stress and Adrenal Fatigue, irregular sleep patterns are one of the most frustrating symptoms. Ideally, your cortisol levels increase abut an hour before you wake and stay up during most of the day and slowly taper down; they then level off so that you can sleep at night. Yet, those with chronic stress and adrenal fatigue tend to have the opposite patterns since it takes them longer to be fully awake and alert. The cortisol levels (which can be tested in various tests) can be higher at night because of the chronic stressors eventually depleting melatonin levels. Watching TV, being on your phone or computer right before bed also has a negative effect on melatonin production.
You may have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep through the night. Once awake, women tend to relive events in their minds or play out a situation that may never have even happened. “If I don’t get this client then I will be broke, I’ll lose my house, we will be homeless, and I will never have anything ever again.” That may seem dramatic but how many of us can tell ourselves different versions of this story as it may pertain to us. However, just the act of anticipating the made-up scenario can cause more of a stress reaction within your body. Now, you’re not getting to sleep until 4:30 AM and your alarm is set for 5:15 AM. And the cycle continues...
As your body is in the constant “protect from immediate danger” mode, there isn’t time for your body to rest and regenerate. Your body is producing stress hormones and that will affect the production of neurotransmitters, serotonin, and GABA. When your neurotransmitters are at levels which are too high or too low, then the effect can be tremendous on your mood. This varies from person to person when homeostasis is interrupted. I will tell you, in my own experience, stress makes me a PMS monster. Those symptoms are amplified like a million times over when there is unmanaged stress in my life. The smallest events can have the largest reactions. Your ability to handle stressors may have diminished. I have found that many of my clients feel the same way and they aren’t quite sure how to improve their patience so they can spare those around them from getting their heads bit off.
5. Frequent Sickness
Adrenal fatigue and chronic infection or sickness really go hand in hand. If you are experiencing the cough or cold that just won’t go away or one sore throat after the next, you might have some stress in your life. For me, I usually go down for a 1-2 week count when there is tremendous stress in my life. That could look like travel for work, big projects I am working, an emotional event, major over scheduling without any downtime, etc. When you are not sleeping well or taking the time to rest, your body is unable to fight off infection because it is using it’s resources to keep inflammation down from stress and nutrients are being depleted for that function. A different type way that your body can show “sickness” is through your skin. An increase of dry skin, breakouts, rashes, and overall dullness can be a sign of stress.
These five symptoms are classic signs that you have some stress that needs to be managed in order to keep you feeling the best. I would guess that most of you found this post hitting very close to home. If that is the case, you’re wondering what to do now. Next step, contact me to schedule a FREE 20-minute consultation chat to find out how we can make a plan to take control of your energy and health so you can thrive in your life! Don't feel overwhelmed, you just need direction and accountability.
NEXT UP: Don’t miss the next blog post which will give you tangible ways to combat stress!!