Transitioning from your beach chair back to your regular scheduled programming of work, school and more? Fall can be a stressful time as we get back into a routine. Managing it all can be overwhelming. But stress is a toxin, and a dangerous one at that. So we've turned to Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Melanie Reidl to get the low-down on stress and how we can deal with it in the best way possible.
Let's start from the beginning. What happens to our bodies when we get "stressed out"?
Physical and emotional stressors put increased demands on our adrenal glands, which is our major hormone producing site. Our adrenal glands then produce cortisol.
In normal amounts cortisol is beneficial and adaptive to stress, because it increases energy and stamina, mental alertness, and cognitive function. However, when the stressful stimuli are present for days or weeks at a time, it can result in adrenal gland dysfunction (also known as adrenal fatigue) and imbalanced cortisol levels.
So how do we know if our cortisol levels might be out of whack?
Some common symptoms that are associated with imbalanced cortisol levels include:
- Weight Gain
- Poor Focus, Memory or Concentration
- Weak Immune Function
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Irregular Menstrual Cycles
- And more.
How do you generally treat adrenal fatigue?
If you have some of these symptoms and are experiencing stress, it would be beneficial to be assessed for adrenal fatigue and get started on a treatment plan that will support your adrenals and reduce stress. I love prescribing adaptogens, which are plant-based supplements that balance cortisol and rejuvenate adrenal function. Adaptogens (such as Ginseng) increase energy and mental focus, and enhance the ability to function under stress - health benefits I know most of us would appreciate!
What are some easy ways we can alter our lifestyle to reduce stress and balance our cortisol levels?
1. Get to sleep earlier, preferably before 11PM.
Don’t skip your zzz’s. Your body restores and regenerates cells and hormones during sleep, so aim to get 7-9 hours each night. The most important time for the adrenals 11pm-1am, so ensure your bedtime is before 11pm. Try relaxation techniques such as guided meditation or deep breathing before bed to help you fall asleep easier and get more restful sleep.
2. Exercise regularly in the morning or afternoon.
Exercise helps regulate cortisol levels and promotes the release of endorphins, adrenaline, and serotonin. These hormones reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood and sleep, and increase energy. It is best to exercise in the morning or afternoon as the increased cortisol release early in the day keeps us energized and ready to take on any stress that comes our way.
3. Eat a whole foods, plant-based diet.
Whole foods are rich in macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Protein, fat, vitamin B5, vitamin C, zinc, magnesium, and selenium are all particularly important in nourishing our adrenal glands. Ensure that you’re eating lots of vegetables and other plant-based foods like olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, oats and quinoa.
4. Practice positive thinking.
When it comes to stress, we have the choice on how we respond. Negative thoughts and emotions can increase anxiety, stress and cortisol levels. Learning and practicing mindfulness techniques and making a conscious choice to have a more optimistic perspective can help you take control of your thoughts, so that they are more positive and productive.
5. Reduce or avoid stimulants like caffeine and alcohol.
Caffeine and alcohol put added stress on the adrenal glands as they increase adrenaline release in the body. So if you are feeling stressed out, try to steer clear of caffeine and alcohol as they will only worsen symptoms.
Dr. Melanie Reidl N.D. is a licensed, board-certified Naturopathic Doctor, practicing in her hometown of Waterloo, Ontario. She specializes in fertility & endocrine (hormonal) health, mental-emotional health, digestive health, and holistic weight management. Dr. Reidl addresses her patients' health concerns by looking deeper and addressing the root causes, in order to restore balance in the body. She inspires her patients to become their healthiest, happiest, most vital selves with Naturopathic Medicine. Click here for more information about Melanie.