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November 15, 2023

Chronic Stress & What It Does to Your Body

Post By:
Susan Winograd
In-House Contributor
Founder | Pelvic Health Physical Therapist
Pelvicore Rehab & Wellness
Guest Contributor:

If you’ve ever felt physically sick from stress, there’s a good reason why.

In a perfect world, we would experience a lifestyle stressor, complete the body’s stress cycle, and return to baseline and homeostasis. This is the way our bodies are naturally intended to operate. Nowadays, many of us actually live in a chronic state of stress-- physical, emotional, and chemical. It is as if we are living our lives with our foot on the “gas pedal” at ALL times! Many of us never take so much as a break to slow down.

(Sounds exhausting, right?)

So many of us are living with chronic stress from work, relationships, and our never-ending to-do lists. We wake up feeling foggy, unmotivated, and start to see irritating symptoms creep in. These symptoms might include bloating, stubborn belly fat, decreased libido-- even depression and anxiety. 

But what is truly happening in our body?

Let’s start with the simple fact that our body naturally produces a hormone called cortisol from our adrenal glands to help manage everyday stress, and inflammation. 

Constant stress causes our body to produce an excessive amount of cortisol, leading to an imbalance in the hormone. It has a major impact on our adrenal glands, which serve as the major producer of hormones that help to regulate our metabolism, immune function, blood pressure, and stress response.

To make matters more complicated, a cortisol imbalance often leads to a decreased immune response. This can be the beginning of leaky gut syndrome, and is also often the first step in developing an autoimmune issue.

We begin to lose efficiency in the absorption of nutrients, and those affected may begin to complain of constant and uncomfortable bloating, distention, and belly upset.

As if this wasn't enough, this now-inflammatory environment in the gut can inhibit the release and absorption of important chemicals like GABA, serotonin, dopamine, and melatonin. These are our bodies' natural depression-fighting neurotransmitters. This is why so many people with prolonged stress, a hormone imbalance, and persistent inflammation ALSO experience anxiety and depression. It’s no coincidence!

Remember: your body will do what it needs to do to get you through the day. Its number one concern is always survival.

Knowing all of this: what happens next?

Once we’ve been hanging out in this state for long enough, the body naturally develops a defense by recruiting the thyroid and/or our primary sex hormones to help keep us going. Unfortunately, this means we may then face a hormonal imbalance and insulin resistance. Many people who are on hormone replacement therapy still don't feel great, and this is likely why. They may even start having symptoms of a thyroid imbalance. It’s because their symptoms are being treated-- NOT the underlying cause.

As if all this is not enough….

Do you ever feel so stressed that you begin feeling like you're losing your mind? You become scatterbrained and forgetful. You walk into a room for something, but can’t remember why. Words that should be easily accessible in your mind are suddenly getting lost. Sound familiar?

This is a REAL thing. You aren’t going crazy! 

When you have been exposed to stress for a prolonged time, the area in your brain that is responsible for memory (the hippocampus) becomes affected. It’s hardly a surprise that chronic stress has a negative effect on our memory!

So, what on earth can we do to tackle this dysfunctional cycle?

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The good news is that our bodies are intelligent, resilient, and extremely powerful-- especially when given the proper support. Here’s where to start.

Luckily, our bodies have a natural detoxification system to help us get rid of the garbage. The liver is our major detox organ, and it has our back. This is why the first step is to focus on cleaning out the liver and restoring it to an optimal state. If our liver is not operating as it should, our body will remain in a persistent, inflammatory state, and we will not be able to achieve hormonal balance. 

Even people that are in peak health need to be able to detoxify!

Once your liver is functioning properly, you can start to heal through incorporating natural holistic, integrative changes to your lifestyle and nutrition. This will get you feeling like you are back to living at your “Level 10” health and LIFE!

As you can now see, our body has brilliant healing powers. Oftentimes, the frustrating and stubborn symptoms we experience are due to multisystem issues stemming from a perpetual cycle of chronic stress, hormone imbalance, and a persistent state of inflammation.

 In order to get to the root of these symptoms, we must look at the body from a holistic and integrative lens, addressing healing from all angles. Only then can we tap into our healing superpowers, and not only dream of the life we want, but start living the life we dream of!