Chronic Stress and Anxiety
Do you wake up each day with low energy?
Do you notice that small hiccups in your day seem to “set you off” and can cause your heart to pound or feelings of anxiety?
Do you notice that you get colds more often and always feel like you’re just trying to “get through” your day.
Does your mind race at night?
These are all symptoms of chronic stress and anxiety which typically point to other more serious health imbalances.
What is Chronic Stress?
Chronic stress has become an epidemic and is the most common complaint reported by primary care physicians. The way your body experiences stress is much more complicated than most people realize. The stress response is a complex system that involves the brain, nervous system, and the adrenal glands, called the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis. When the brain perceives a stress, it signals the adrenals to make cortisol and the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and epinephrine (adrenaline). Optimal cortisol levels are highest in the morning to help us wake up start the day and lowest in the evening to promote sleep. Long term stress leads to chronic activation of the HPA axis, which disrupts the cortisol rhythm as well as DHEA, melatonin, and epinephrine.
Nearly every organ including the gut, brain, thyroid, male and female reproductive system can be impacted, leading to a multitude of symptoms including cognitive issues like anxiety.
Symptoms of Chronic Stress
People often feel wired, but tired, experience palpitations, anxiety, difficulties sleeping, dizziness with standing, low blood pressure, body aches, muscle pain, unexplained weight loss or weight gain, low libido, thyroid imbalances, poor exercise tolerance and recovery, brain fog, and cravings for salt and sugar.
Damage Caused by Chronic Stress
Cortisol increases blood sugar and over time can lead to insulin resistance or pre-diabetes. The immune system becomes suppressed, allowing for chronic inflammation and increased susceptibility to viral infections.
Cause of Chronic Stress
Chronic stress can be due to a multitude of things, including lack of sleep, a diet high in processed and junk foods, consuming too many stimulants like caffeine and sugar, a rigorous work schedule, emotional trauma from unhealthy relationships or death of a loved one, over training, and lack of fun or loving relationships.
Chronic internal stress (usually to blame for anxiety) can also be caused by certain biological imbalances that are typically not addressed by conventional practitioners. This included dealing with gut health as it relates to gut bacteria balances as well as issues with hormones.
The Functional Medicine Approach
With the chronic stress cycle, functional medicine acknowledges the multi-factor causes, from lifestyle factors including poor food choices and food sensitivities, systemic imbalances like gut and hormones, or potentially other factors like a variety of traumas that haven’t healed. Exposure to environmental toxins and even stealth infections are two other considerations that are typically over-looked by conventionally trained practitioners.