In 2017, 37% of adults in the United States stated their stress levels have increased. And only 4 states have less than 25% of their adult population considered obese. Those 4 states have more than 20% of their population considered as obese.
We've known for a while that consistent stress leads to weight gain, headaches, digestive distress, sleep disturbances, depression and more.
And we have known that stress is linked to fatigue. When you're stressed you spend a lot of energy trying to avoid or stop it. And you worry, your body is tense, and you don't sleep well.
But what you might not realize is that both are related and interconnected by hormones.
The Cortisol Connection
Long-term fatigue is often associated with adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue is a series of nonspecific symptoms; fatigue, sleepless nights, body aches, anxiety or nervousness and even digestive distress. And is usually a result of long-term stress. Stress can be either external or internal or a combination of both. The point is your stress response system is active more often than not and over time this wears you down.
The name implies your adrenal glands are exhausted, but it's more than that. Your entire stress response system is no longer able to function properly. This can lead to other systems being compromised such as your immune system.
When your stress response system is active, you're in a fight-or-flight mode and everything in your brain and body is focused on survival. When your brain and sensory system perceive a threat; real or imaginary, stress hormones; adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are released. These chemicals stimulate your heart, so it pumps faster and stronger moving more blood out to your extremities. This also means resources are diverted from systems that do not equate to immediate necessity for survival such as your digestive system or your immune system. Instead, resources are shuttled to processes that support your ability to climb, run, see danger, hear danger, react quickly and fight if necessary.
Basically, over time, if you experience sustained or chronic stress, you are inhibiting your ability to feed your cells the nutrients they need to produce natural energy. And this leads to long-term fatigue or an energy crisis.
But lets take this further, to produce energy you need to deliver both oxygen and nutrients to your cells. And now that you understand the role that cortisol and other stress hormones play in inhibiting this delivery, there's another hormone you want to pay particular attention to, insulin. And cortisol and insulin have a special relationship.
The Insulin Connection
When stress hits, cortisol goes into action and glucose is released. You need glucose for immediate energy needs like running and climbing to avoid being eaten. Once the threat is gone, cortisol levels go back to normal and so does our need for immediate glucose.
We have adapted to this rise and fall of cortisol for short durations, but in today's world stress has become the norm, and yet your body still reacts to it as a threat to your survival.
Insulin is released when your blood glucose levels are elevated. This occurs when you eat, particularly carbohydrates (sugars) or a large amount of protein, or when cortisol is released when you have a need for immediate glucose.
Insulin's primary duty is to reduce the amount of glucose in your bloodstream. When your blood glucose levels rise, insulin moves it into storage for later use. Initially you store glucose in the liver.
But the liver has a limited capacity for storage, and once there's no more, excess glucose is stored as fat.
This is a fantastic system. You eat, blood sugar goes up, insulin is released, you store glucose and fat. When you go for a period of time without food, insulin levels fall, and your glucose and fat storage is released providing you what you need.
But this process rarely goes full cycle, because you are under constant stress and you have an abundance of food, particularly processed and simple carbohydrates.
This abundance of glucose in your system causing insulin levels to rise affects your ability to produce natural energy. Because along with the glucose being stored, so too minerals and nutrients your cells need.
If you maintain high-levels of insulin you not only increase your amount of body fat, you also deprive your cells of much needed resources for energy production.
Stress triggers cortisol which prompts the need for blood glucose levels to rise, which triggers insulin to release causing glucose and nutrients to be stored in fat cells for later use.
One, if you are constantly in a state of stress, a large portion of what you eat will not get digested properly and much will be stored for later use if not used immediately.
Two, if you constantly eat foods that are not nutrient dense and break down into glucose, or too much at one time to the point you can't process it all, much will be stored for later use along with nutrients you need.
What's worse is, if you chronically maintain elevated levels of insulin you will develop insulin resistance.
Over time, your cells determine that there is too much insulin and will adapt to the new norm.
This is a result of the body trying to balance itself out, find homeostasis.
Just like when your body sweats to cool down, your body adapts when its outside of its comfort zone. It does this on the chemical level as well.
If your body has too much insulin floating around for too long, cells adapt. They become resistant to insulin which is responsible for the cell's ability to intake glucose.
All cells can use glucose as fuel. But if the cell, other than fat cells, do not need more glucose and there is too much insulin, over time they block insulin from speaking to them.
This is a rudimentary way of describing insulin resistance, but an important one.
The problem comes, when they do need more glucose and they have blocked insulin. Now the cell is starving.
To compensate, the body produces more insulin to force the cells to accept insulin and intake glucose.
But the more insulin in your system, the more is stored away as fat too.
It's A Vicious Cycle
Not only does stress contribute to your fatigue, it contributes to your increasing waistline, which increases your stress.
There's a lot going on here, and you don't want to add to your stress. Instead, take it step by step and start with these two focal points.
First, start becoming aware of your external stressors and reduce or eliminate them. This may mean avoiding them, letting them go or reframing your response to the stressor. This helps to correct your stress response and how often you release cortisol.
Second, start paying attention to how much, how often and what you eat. Reduce your sugar intake and give your body longer breaks, or short fasts, between meals to allow your body to process before you flood it with more glucose. This will help correct your insulin levels and reduce your chances of having insulin resistance.
If you need more support on how to DO this, I have a 3-Day Energy Building Primer you can access for free. Click here to access it now.
With this Energy Building Primer, you will learn
- Why common energy boosters are not working
- The truth about willpower and how you can reduce your need for it
- A simple meal strategy that supports your energy building
- And more.
It's not a complete solution, but it's a great first step and you have to start somewhere.
What are your thoughts? Do you want to expand the conversation? Share your comments and insights on my Facebook page; Justine Cécile Coaching.
And if you are a woman and would like to dig deeper, come join me over at Designing Oneself on Facebook. Designing Oneself is a place for women who have seen a few things, experienced a few things and want more.
It's a place where we can gather and overcome conventional norms that say we have to slow down as we age. That stomach upset, fatigue, body aches & pains, and cognitive slowing down is normal. (They may be common, but certainly NOT normal.)
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