In August, Veracity is celebrating our inaugural Hormone Health Awareness Month. Join the conversation at one of our virtual panel discussions throughout the month and post on social using the hashtag #ItsYourHormones.
Picture a tiger gnashing its teeth in front of you. It’s a scenario that screams to your brain: danger! Drop everything and put all your energy into escaping.
This biological flight-or-fight response has helped humans survive for millennia. But today, many of us are facing a never-ending stream of tigers in the form of stress from work, day-to-day life, or an endless bad news cycle.
When your body encounters stress, it doesn’t distinguish between a true life-or-death scenario like a real tiger and the more psychological threats of our modern lives. In both cases, it immediately goes into survival mode “putting certain maintenance functions on hold while we focus on the ‘tiger’ in front of us,” explains Dr. Andrew Neville, a naturopathic doctor who specializes in adrenal fatigue. “It’s not so important to build bone, hair, nails, to detoxify, or to digest food when there’s an impending threat.”
“Do this once in a while, and it will keep you alive; if you do it too often, however, you then suffer the effects of chronically suppressing some important organ systems.”
The good news is awareness is the most important step. Once you know how constant stress is affecting your health, you do what you need to bring your body back into happy, healthy balance.
Back to Basics: How Your Body Reacts to Stress
When you’re in a stressful situation, your brain sends a message to the adrenal gland to increase production of cortisol, also known as “the stress hormone.” This chemical response kicks your fight-or-flight response into gear, a process that happens whether you’re in a near-death situation or just feeling frazzled because your kid is having a meltdown at the grocery store.
Some amount of stress is unavoidable and good, as is a balanced amount of cortisol. The problem is when there is too much for too long.
“Stress is a normal part of life. It’s essentially our body’s attempt to adapt to changes in our environment. We can have good stressors (buying a new home, getting our dream job) and bad stressors (being overloaded at work, the death of a loved one),” says Dr. Marsha Brown, a licensed psychologist who specializes in stress management.
However, the overproduction of cortisol saps up your body’s resources, which causes a ripple effect in your ability to produce balanced levels of other hormones. Stress that is chronic, as it has been for many of us over the past few years, can throw the body into a tailspin, affecting your health in a myriad of ways.