Written by Gabby Borgerink
I think we can all agree that most women are largely running on stress hormones these days. We're constantly wearing ourselves thin, taking on too much, not doing enough of what we love, and not nourishing ourselves enough for all the energy we are spending daily.
About a year ago I was introduced to the work of Hans Selye. He is a medical doctor and researcher from McGill University that came up with the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). His theory is, when placed under stressors (no matter which type) be it financial, traumatic, relationships, etc., your body adapts and there are physiological changes.
Dr. Selye advanced the theory that stress plays a role in every disease, and that failure to cope with, or adapt to, stressors can produce “diseases of adaptation,” including ulcers, high blood pressure, and heart attacks. He called his theory the “General Adaptation Syndrome.”
Stress is the driver of all disease and imbalance in the body. There is no denying it at this point. There are many different types of stressors as well: physical, emotional, mental, and environmental. It's not about removing all stressors - because there will always be some in our lives - but limiting them as much as you can and having the tools to support your body and be able to listen to it when it's calling for help.
Stress response has 3 stages:
- Alarm Phase - this is the initial exposure to the stressor, where we are often in fight or flight mode. The body will pull as many resources as it can, and this can often last for a few weeks to even years. We often feel good in this stage because we are running on an adrenaline high. This is why some people feel amazing on low carb or keto diets at the beginning, but then their health quickly deteriorates.
- Resistance Phase - this comes after prolonged exposure to the stressors. Your body begins to adjust and adapt to constant stressors and outputs stress hormones to compensate. You may start to experience symptoms here such as hair loss, anxiety, and irregular cycles - things that make you start wondering if there are any issues or imbalances, but generally still able to function.
- Exhaustion Phase - this is when your body can no longer adapt to stress, and major health issues start to arise. Your body has been running on limited resources for so long and your body is starting to force you to slow down. All of these symptoms and health issues are messages from your body telling you something is wrong.
Now here is the big question you're probably wondering, am I running off stress hormones? And if so, which stage am I at? The graphic below has some characteristics or symptoms that hint you may be running off stress hormones:
There are many other symptoms as well, such as cold hands and feet, dark circles under the eyes, rapidly aging appearance, insulin resistance, hair loss, and more.
So if you check off a lot of those and think you're stressed out, what should you do next and how do you get support?
Firstly, we want to support the body and reduce stressors, not add more. If taking more supplements, implementing a ton of new healthy habits, and changing your entire life will bring more stress; I strongly advise against starting big right off the bat. As is often my suggestion, I would say start small.
Simple Daily Changes
- Eat regular meals every 3-4 hours.
- Limit screen time including social media, which can be especially mentally stressful.
- Remove inflammatory oils such as canola, soy bean, and other seed oils.
- Don't limit your carbs because this is your biggest source of energy! If you are concerned about carb intake, just try slowly switching a little at a time to healthier carbs.
An important reminder - if you were consuming industrial seed oils, under immense stress, not eating enough, and/or over exercising for years, it will take TIME to heal. These are little changes you need to stick to on a daily basis for months, if not years, to see real change. It's a marathon not a sprint, and quick fixes and changes that happen overnight are often too good to be true.
Let's focus on true long lasting health and creating a lifestyle that is sustainable and one that you love. Ask yourself “can I do this for 10-20 years or the rest of my life?” If the answer is no, then it may be time to reevaluate your approach.
Gabby Borgerink is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner who works with women to educate about hormones and how they can support their body through nutrition and lifestyle. After her experience coming off hormonal contraception and trying both conventional and alternative health care, Gabby believes in the power of listening to your body and getting to the root cause of your health problems through a holistic approach. Her goal is for women to take back the power of their menstrual cycle and support them in balancing their hormones from a bio-individual approach. Visit her website or find her on Instagram to connect and learn more.