by JANE BURNETTE healthcoachjane.com IG @coachjanebb FB janedanielinhc
“Stressed,” is a common response to those who ask how we are feeling in this world we live in. Sometimes we have lived with underlying stress for so long, we don’t know any other way to be and assume it is normal.
In this month’s Clean Living, I want to educate you on: cortisol, our main stress hormone, the types of stress, and most importantly, things you can do to improve the way stress impacts your body.
What is cortisol?
Cortisol is the main stress hormone produced in our adrenal glands (two small glands that sit on top of our kidneys). Cortisol modulates inflammation, regulates blood sugar and blood pressure, and plays a role in our “fight or flight” response.
Cortisol is an anti-inflammatory. You may have taken prednisone in the past to help with pain or skin issues like eczema or psoriasis. It also helps regulate blood sugar. If your blood sugar drops too low, cortisol will raise it. In addition, it plays a role in digestion, assisting in the metabolism of protein, carbs and fats.
We don’t want too much or too little cortisol and we want it to be higher in the morning and decrease as the day progresses.
Symptoms of low cortisol: fatigue, pain, inflammation, anxiety, hypoglycemia, insomnia, cravings for foods, low thyroid function, and low libido
Symptoms of excess cortisol (some are similar to low): a compromised immune system, slow wound healing, elevated blood pressure and blood sugar, disrupted sleep, increased cravings, insomnia, and cognitive decline
What are the main sources of stress/cortisol dysregulation?
Perceived Stress: feelings of anxiety, depression, grief, guilt and fear; mental and emotional factors relating to lack of control, burnout, and relationships
Circadian Rhythm Imbalances: sleep issues, caffeine, light and dark disruptions, shift work
Blood Sugar Dysregulation: excess consumption of low-nutrient carbohydrates (i.e. anything in a box, package or bag with multiple ingredients), low fiber, food sensitivities, stress eating, insulin resistance, obesity, low physical activity
Inflammation: infectious disease, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, allergies, atopic disease, consuming foods sensitive to, leaky gut
What can you do to improve stress?
You may not be able to change the stressors in your life (i.e. caregiver to parents and/or kids) but you can change your response to these stressors. Taking time out of your day doing things you love, breathing exercises like box breathing, being in nature, yoga, exercise, and talk therapy can all improve your response to stress.
A super easy and free way to improve circadian rhythm function is to take advantage of the sun. Try to get morning sunlight first thing in the morning. This will increase cortisol (which is what we want in the morning) and decrease melatonin. As the day progresses, we want cortisol to go in a downward slope and melatonin to slowly rise for bedtime. One to two hours before bed, reduce your screen exposure from phone, TV, tablets, and computers. The blue light emitted from these devices mimic the sun. There are now settings and software that will remove the blue light from your screens. My favorite is f.lux for my computer and using night mode for my phone. I also wear blue blocking glasses at night.
First off, greatly reduce or remove processed foods (foods in a box, package or bag with multiple ingredients). Prioritize protein at each meal along with lots of color from above ground vegetables and low sugar fruits (i.e. berries of all varieties) and healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. Eat three meals a day without snacking in-between.
In my opinion, improving the above can help with inflammation. In addition, it may be helpful to do a food sensitivity test to see if there are foods you have regularly that you are sensitive to. Keep in mind, this is not an allergy test where you would have an immediate reaction to a certain food. This lab would be testing for sensitivities. You could also try a gluten and dairy free diet for 4-8 weeks to see if symptoms improve.
As human beings, we were built to handle acute stressors (i.e. running from a predator). We weren’t meant to have the perpetual chronic stress of modern society.
A little about me:
Who am I?
Hi! My name is Jane Burnette. I am a proud mom to three healthy boys, a lover of the great outdoors, a forever student, health nut, exercise enthusiast and native of the Triad. I am also a graduate of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
What do I do?
I am a holistic health coach with multiple certifications in all things related to health, nutrition and exercise. In 2015, I received my first certification as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. I haven’t stopped taking classes since then and hope I never will! The areas I’m most passionate about are my trainings in Ayurveda, Polyvagal Theory, Female Hormone Optimization and Weight Loss, and most recently the Journey of Intrinsic Health. All of these have one thing in common; the body has the ability to heal itself if we allow it to do so.