Everyone is stressed in some way shape or form. Be it commuting two hours a day, dealing with finances, our health or the health of a loved one, politics, work demands, pressures of school or family, and the list goes on. However, while we are always talking about stress the real health effects are often missed, but that is where the real trouble lies.
Think about it. When we are preoccupied and worried, even anxious, we are prone to sleep poorly, make poorer food choices, maybe sacrifice healthy habits like exercise and relaxing. Eventually there is an impact on our health. And there are predictable areas of our health that suffer.
First of all when people do not sleep well over a period of time, they are tired and do not function well. Adrenal glands, which respond to stress by producing cortisol and other hormones, stop functioning optimally and people slide into a state often referred to as “adrenal fatigue.”
Stressed out people do not produce optimal levels of hormones. It is commonplace for young women to skip periods while stressed and for men to produce less testosterone.
Weight gain is common under stressful conditions (though there are some that lose weight they cannot afford to lose). And hormonal resources are diverted to producing cortisol which contributes to the accumulation of body fat, inability to tolerate carbohydrates, elevated blood sugar, poor thyroid function, hypertension and even cardiac issues.
To add to the bad news, when people are stressed and not sleeping well they begin to have pain in different parts of the body and many people end up with myofascial pain and fibromyalgia. This begins to create a vicious circle of pain which interferes with sleep which aggravates pain.
So given all this, what is there to do? First thing is to recognize and acknowledge the presence of the stress state. And to begin to make changes to reduce stress.
One pitfall here is to say to a patient “reduce stress.” This may actually increase stress. Better is to look and ask, what is one thing you can do to reduce your stress? And have the patient take on one area they can take on.
Working on sleep is critical. Many people do well by simply making time for sleep, altering habits such as caffeine intake and computer watching and altering their environment. Some people need herbal support or even medications to ensure a good night's sleep.
Working with a physician knowledgeable in the areas of hormonal treatment and adrenal fatigue, as well as fibromyalgia, can empower people to transcend the insidious impact of stress on their health.
Often people present with a multitude of symptoms and complaints, but if they are taken on one by one and recognized as the effects of stress, they can be treated fairly easy and people can recover quickly.