by Dr. Bianca Drennan, ND
After a summer of relaxation, time-off, and warm sunshine, it can be difficult to get back into the routine of fall and winter.
Whether it is getting your kids to school, going back to a regular work schedule, or adjusting to the lack of sunlight – this can be a very stressful time period for many people. Although people deal with stress at all times of the year, the end of summer/beginning of fall can bring on a new experience of stress.
We’re all stressed. Stressed about life, work, finances, loved ones, health – the list goes on. Most people experience some level of stress, whether they realize it or not. It is very rare that we come across people who have no stress in their lives, and I would even challenge them. That being said, not everyone is aware of their stress or how it may be impacting their lives. I often talk to people or see patients who do not admit they are stressed but instead give me a list of all the things happening in their lives, and their associated symptoms. Learning to become more in tune and aware of our stressors should not be seen as a sign of weakness but of strength.
Stress is a very “normal” part of everyday life. Without stress, we may not be as efficient as we could be or know how to interpret dangerous situations. We need the stress. Our bodies are designed to deal with stress. However, it is when this very normal stress becomes too much for our bodies to handle that we run into problems. Above a certain level, which is different for everyone, our bodies are no longer able to effectively manage stress. The effects of this can be mental, emotional, and physical. An inability to cope with stress can impair memory, concentration, and motivation. In addition, it can also interfere with our relationships and ability to function alone and socially. The physical effects of stress are also wide-ranging – hormonal imbalances (PMS, abnormal menstrual cycles, fertility issues), headaches, muscle tension, cardiac symptoms (palpitations, shortness of breath), mood changes, digestive issues, weight gain, and chronic pain – among many others. In other words, untreated elevated levels of stress can affect every facet of our lives and is often the root cause of many acute and chronic diseases.
If you think stress is negatively affecting your life, it is important to recognize it and seek help. Below are some ways to tell if your level stress is too high, and some ways to cope. There are many ways to manage stress better, and seeing a Naturopathic Doctor can help guide you through those options and help choose the most individualized treatment for you.
Here are some ways to tell if your stress is too much for you:
- Difficulty losing or maintaining weight (especially around the mid-section)
- Difficulty concentrating and completing 1 task (think the ultimate multitasker)
- Mood swings
- Chronic pain and headaches
- Tight muscles (especially around the shoulders)
- Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, waking unrefreshed
- Constant worry and ruminating thoughts (often experienced around bedtime)
- Heart palpitations or chest pain elevated blood pressure
- Irregular menstrual cycles (increased cramping, loss of cycle or heavier bleeding)
- Increased bloating or gas, often with stomach pain
- Increased sensitivity to certain foods
- Changes in bowel habits
- Hair loss
There is also an option to have specialized laboratory testing done to objectively measure your stress hormones.
Laboratory testing can accurately measure how stressed your body is which can be incredibly informative. You may not feel as stressed as your body really is – having laboratory testing done is an effective way to determine just how stressed you are. There are a few options to measure stress-related hormones:
Adrenal Function Panel
Measures cortisol levels at 4 points throughout the day to determine the body’s ability to cope with stress. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands to help the body deal with stress. Low or elevated cortisol can lead to clinical symptoms including fatigue, frequent illness (cold/flu), weight gain, low mood, inability to maintain focus and concentration, low sex drive, blood sugar imbalances, and an overall burned out feeling. It is a non-invasive test requiring the patient to provide 4 saliva samples rather than a blood sample. Saliva represents a more accurate medium to measure cortisol levels, especially when measured throughout the day. Blood/serum cortisol is less reliable as it is only a snapshot of your cortisol level at the time of measurement (however blood/serum testing is also available). Cortisol levels outside the normal range detected via this test indicate an inappropriate stress response which could lead to chronic disease.
You may also have an adrenal function panel added to other salivary hormone testing such as female and male hormones. This provides an even more complete picture of how effectively and appropriately your body secretes hormones, which could impact your stress response.
Here are some ways to help manage your stress:
- Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night
- Deep breathing, meditation
- Limit caffeine
- Ensure you are getting sufficient omega-3 fatty acids in your diet (fish, walnuts, flaxseeds)
- Exercise regularly
- Keep a journal
- Ensure adequate protein in your diet
- Supplemental options*: L-theanine, fish oil, vitamin B12, GABA, glycine, magnesium bisglycinate, vitamin D, adaptogenic herbs, chamomile/lavender/lemon balm tea
*Before starting any supplements, please consult your Naturopathic Doctor for appropriate dosing and side effect information.
Dr. Bianca Drennan ND, has been providing nutritional consulting and naturopathic medicine services at Pacific Wellness and is available for appointments four days a week. If you would like to detoxify and trim your body, improve your lifestyle or address certain health concerns please call us at 416-929-6958 or submit your online appointment request to arrange your initial appointment. The naturopathic appointments are covered by most employee benefits.