27 Apr Is Stress Making You Sick?

The body’s stress response to a situation such as jumping when a balloon pops or feeling butterflies when getting ready to play a sport event, is considered normal and healthy.

What isn’t considered normal or healthy, is when the body is under constant stress without adequate time for recovery. This can lead to poor health, such as putting on weight and promoting disease such as diabetes or heart disease, gastrointestinal issues and general anxiety disorders.

What are some stressors?

  • Poor diet, alcohol, smoking & lack of sleep
  •  Illness, medications & environmental toxins
  • Technology and always being “available”
  • Emotional stress – work fears, financial pressure
  • Lack of exercise
  • Psychological stress and life situations.

What are the 3 stages prolonged stress?

Phase 1: Alarm – the fight or flight response. The adrenal glands immediately produce adrenalin and cortisol to protect us from danger. This should only be short term and then the body should rest & repair.

What happens to our body at the “alarm” stage?

  • Blood is shuttled to the heart and lungs
  • More oxygen and glucose is given to muscles and the brain ready for action
  • Breathing rate and heart rate increases
  • Digestive function decreases
  • The body releases energy stores to cope with increased requirements to fight or flight.

Phase 2: Resistance – this allows our body to fight the stress response for longer. Cortisol levels remain elevated and our body doesn’t rest & repair at this stage.

What happens to our body at the “resistance” stage?

  • More hormones are excreted to raise blood sugar levels for continued energy needs
  • Retention of sodium to keep blood pressure elevated and heart contracting strongly
  • Depression of the immune system resulting in more sickness such as colds, increased allergies and feeling run down
  • Increase in anxiety and agitation
  • Memory and cognition issues
  • Feeling tired but “wired”.

Phase 3: Exhaustion – the body can no longer maintain the stress response and normal body functions begin to break down.

What happens to our body at the “exhaustion” stage?

  • Stress hormone production becomes exhausted leading to an inability to cope with stress
  • Energy reserves run out and you become dependent on stimulating foods such as coffee, carbohydrates or sugar
  • Increase in weight, especially around the middle and not being able to lose it
  • Dizziness when standing up from either sitting or laying down
  • You may always feel like you have a cold or an increase in allergies
  • A feeling of complete mental and physical exhaustion.

What can I do?

Recognise the signs that may indicate prolonged stress such as struggling to get out of bed, complete exhaustion during the day, cravings for salty and sweet foods, lack of energy, decreased ability to handle stress, increase time to recover from illness and feelings of a foggy head.

Have you had tests completed that have ruled out any major illness, but still fell unwell?

Small changes to your life such as nutritional changes, exercising and regular sleep can make a world of difference. Functional testing of your stress hormones can also help by understanding how your body is coping with stress and enable a more targeted treatment strategy to help recovery and manage stress.