Stress can kill.
It sounds dramatic, but when I look at the lives of individuals that I’ve worked with or my family, it is 100% true. Ask yourself this question…how many times have you laid awake at night panicked because you couldn’t get your mind to calm down due to a work project or because of a classmate that wasn’t putting in the same amount of effort that you are? Think back to that time you were worried sick about your diagnosis and you had no idea how your world would drastically change…
While it may seem like those things aren’t huge, things can build up over time and can wreak havoc in our bodies. It is no secret that the pandemic has put a strain on our lives that no one could have anticipated. The stress of losing our routines, not being able to travel the way we used to, or the fear of the unknown has troubled many of us.
I have heard countless stories of patients at work that have passed away from a pre existing condition that they didn’t want to get checked because they were afraid that they would “get COVID”. It is a legitimate concern; however, it came at a cost.
Our brains, thyroid glands and every other internal organ can suffer in some way when our bodies are pushed beyond their limits. In this post, I want to share how stress can manifest in our bodies.
If you have listened to my podcast, the Thyroid Warrior lately, you know that I spent some time talking about the brain and how it impacts other systems in our bodies. You can listen to the podcast by clicking here.
Today I want to focus on the adrenal glands along with the symptoms associated with stress.
The adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys and produce the hormones that are used to regulate our metabolism, our immune system function and you guessed it, our ability to handle stress (1). Several hormones are released by the adrenal glands and the main one that most of us are familiar with is cortisol. Many of us know cortisol as our stress hormone, but it is also related to other functions as well:
- Helps to manage blood pressure (this is why your kidneys are checked when you have blood pressure issues)
- It helps to regulate blood sugar
- Reduces inflammation
- Helps to process how our bodies use fats, protein and carbohydrates
This is another reason why it is so important to manage our response to stress. You can see from the list above why I talk about stress management with all of my clients regardless of whether we are discussing food, fitness or overall wellbeing. We’ve heard that some stress is good for us; however, we often go into the opposite direction. In the event that you want to explore more about this as well as burnout, I highly recommend the book Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski.
Your body can only fight for so long…take care of it by learning how to listen to your body when it signals you to stop.
Let’s review some symptoms and it is my hope that you visit your doctor to explore more.
- Fatigue. We are all familiar with the fatigue of having thyroid issues. This can be due to elevated cortisol levels, but don’t forget about our fight or flight hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine. If you have a really stressful project at work/school or let’s say the kids aren’t playing well together (or insert whatever life situation is happening for you), your body is working hard to keep up. Naturally your body will lose its ability to maintain “all the things” and it’ll slow down after a while. If you have ever experienced anxiety, it can keep you up at night, which will only increase your level of fatigue during the day.
- Hello cravings. Remember how I mentioned that your adrenal glands help to manage blood sugar? Well, when your body is under constant distress, your blood sugar levels will drop, which will ultimately lead to your desire to consume food that will give you the boost that you are seeking. However, this often backfires as we tend to grab something quick because we’re jumping from meeting to meeting and suddenly oh hey cookies 💁🏽♀️. The same can be said of salty foods as well (the mechanism at play here is that stress causes your kidneys to release more minerals in your urine, which will cause an increase in your desire for salt).
- Spike of energy at night. Were you ever exhausted during the day and suddenly you’re planning a beach vacation at night? You have to find the perfect hotel, a great flight and the best food. If you’re having issues sleeping at night, your cortisol levels can become reversed (usually cortisol peaks in morning and drops at night, but the opposite can occur when our sleep habits are off) (2).
Bonus Symptoms: Infections and Illness. Cortisol also helps the immune system and works to reduce inflammation. When our bodies get trapped in the stress response for long periods of time, ultimately our bodies have a difficult time maintaining and we often can get sick and we also open ourselves to autoimmune diseases.
It’s so important for us to be mindful of these things because overtime, these things add up and wreak havoc on our bodies. It really is time to stop putting ourselves second.
You can’t be someone else’s something if you’re nothing for yourself.
Check out this blog post on Managing Stress if you need some tips!