Stress affects the body in more ways than one, and many symptoms of stress are surprising. Under sustained stress (or fight of flight mode), the body responds by focusing on immediate safety and survival. It neglects non-essential activities like reproduction (periods), digestion, long-term memory, immunity, building bone and muscle as well as nourishing skin and hair. Instead, it directs its resources to the brain and muscles.
At TNC, we see a lot of clients with digestive problems. The gut and brain have a direct connection called the vagus nerve, which makes sure everything runs smoothly. Stress directly affects this and can result in numerous issues that can lead to bloating, constipation and IBS. Digestion of food, absorption of nutrients, the movement of the muscles in the intestines to allow for regularity all are affected. A lesser known fact is that stress affects the gut microbiome –– a collection of bacteria, yeast and viruses that run in the trillions, and impact almost every part of the body. Interestingly, a healthy microbiome enhances our resilience to stress while an imbalanced one can make anxiety worse.
Our hormonal response to stress follows a circadian rhythm–– or the rhythm of the sun. The sun rises and so does the hormone cortisol; the sun sets and so does cortisol while the sleep hormone melatonin goes up. Long term stress as well as simply not taking enough time off for self care can upset this cycle. When we assess this at The Nutrition Clinic, we see clients who have low levels of cortisol in the day, which results in energy fluctuations and especially afternoon slumps. Like a relay race that has slowed down, the production of melatonin lags, affecting sleep. The result is a cycle of feeling tired and wired, which feels like deep exhaustion in the day and difficulty sleeping at night. In this situation, most people reach out for sugar and stimulants–– which may give a momentary feel good onto to be followed by a crash. To mitigate this, we recommend starting the day right with a protein rich breakfast such as eggs or a collagen protein shake.
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