By Ashley Watson
According to the American Institute of Stress (AIS), stress is one of top causes of poor health in people living in the United States. Chronic stress can lead to elevated blood pressure, digestive issues, weight gain, memory loss, increased blood sugar, a weakened immune system, and chronic fatigue in some cases (source). It’s important to look at why stress causes so many health problems so that patients can learn how to deal with it in healthy ways.
The human body employs a variety of responses that help the body deal with high stress situations, such as an emergency. These reactions—known as the “stress response”—include increased heart rate, a rise in blood sugar, more blood flow to the joints and muscles, and faster blood clotting to reduce the chance of blood loss after an injury. The adrenal glands also produce more cortisol, which can have a major affect on the body.
How Cortisol Functions in the Body
The stress response is part of automatic reactions in the body that are helpful when the person is in danger, but if the body is chronically stressed, it can lead to poor health over time. In addition to these reactions, the adrenal glands work harder to produce more cortisol, which is an important hormone to several bodily functions.
Cortisol is responsible mostly for hormonal balance within the body and cell protection, but it has other important functions. The top three include the following:
- Helps balance the immune system (prevents both a weak and overactive immune system)
- Helps maintain normal blood sugar
- Helps regulate blood pressure
When there’s not enough cortisol or too much, these systems can become imbalanced, which can also cause what’s known as “adrenal fatigue.”
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
When a person experiences constant physical or emotional stress, the adrenals are constantly responding to this and working much harder than normal. This is commonly called adrenal fatigue, which is marked by overworked adrenal glands and symptoms of chronic fatigue.
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
- Trouble getting out of bed
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Prolonged recovery from illness
- Sugar cravings
- Feeling more alert in the evenings
Fatigue caused by overworked adrenal glands may be difficult to treat, especially since adrenal fatigue is not an official diagnosis. However, patients experiencing symptoms of cortisol imbalance due to stress can certainly find ways to eliminate stress from their lives or deal with it in healthy ways.
If you are a health practitioner, you know how stress can wreak havoc on the body. This is why it’s important to encourage healthy lifestyle choices for your patients as a first step to improving adrenal function, beginning with learning to deal with stress. Here are some ways you can encourage patients to manage stress in healthy ways.
- Eliminate stressful situations
- Regular exercise
- Support from friends and family
- Breathing exercises
- Balanced diet
- Good sleeping habits
- Owning pets
- Eating regular meals