The HPA Axis Part 4: The Six Stressors
We have reached the final installment in my series about the HPA axis. I hinted at today's topic in my last post, so today we will jump into the major causes of trouble within the HPA axis. As I explained in the previous post, a lot of this has to do with cortisol dysregulation, but these stressors listed below can impact the other hormones produced in the adrenals (see post 2 for more).
The six common stressors are as follows:
1. Poor Diet
We've talked about the importance of a real, whole food diet on the blog time and time again. Eating a variety of meat, healthy fats, and vegetables that give us the wide array of nutrients we need helps prevent nutritional stressors from taking root. Nutrient deficiencies, over/under eating, blood sugar spikes/dips, poor gut function as a result of eating inflammatory foods - these are all ways in which our diet can be a stressor on our body. You can read more about my approach to eating here.
2. Lifestyle Stressors
Lifestyle stressors include anything that disrupts the homeostatic balance our body likes to achieve. These items include, but aren't limited to: over/under exercising, lack of balance between work and personal life, not enough sleep, an overwhelming schedule, EMF exposure (electromagnetic field), and anything that disrupts our circadian rhythm (blue light exposure for example). Lifestyle stressors are a bit more individual, meaning that how you perceive the stressor will impact how your body deals with it. For instance, one person might tolerate a certain level of exercise while for another, it might be way too much.
3. Mental Stressors
These type of stressors live in our head, obviously, and can proliferate if not managed. Mental stressors include worry and/or anxiety about work, sleep, finances, or relationships and can also stem from feeling unfulfilled in your work or life or from negative thought patterns. The adrenals can't differentiate these stressors from a bear chasing you; the stress is still stress.
4. Emotional Stressors
Emotional stressors can often make or break us and include the death of a loved one, divorce or unfulfilling relationships, not feeling heard, loneliness, not finding joy in life, feeling emotionally suppressed, etc. In the past, we were meant to "work off" our stressful hormones with hard labor jobs. Now, we simply "sit and stew" and let these things fester instead of working through them, which can be difficult, but absolutely necessary.
5. Physical Stressors
These stressors can be a bit more obvious, like trauma (car accident for example), illness, gut infections, whiplash, surgery, chronic pain, etc. These stressors create a stressful environment in the body, creating a state of inflammation.
6. Biochemical Stressors
Lastly, we have stressors that correspond to the biochemical processes that are going on in the body. These include blood sugar imbalances, liver overload, gut dysbiosis, infections, anemia, allergies, mold, inflammation, etc. Some of these stressors can also be tied in with others, like the connection between diet and the biochemical stressor of poor blood sugar regulation. It all goes hand in hand.
Once you have assessed your cortisol/hormonal output, it is important to review the stressors listed above to see where you need work. Most of us like to put work into the food and exercise portion and shove the mental and emotional work to the side. This is not helpful most of the time, as the latter two are often what give us the most impact when it comes to healing.
I hope you enjoyed a peek into one of the major health issues I've struggled with over the past several years (high cortisol as a result of unmanaged chronic stress). It is not easy, nor is it fun, dealing with these "silent" issues, but they are proof that stress can literally make our body. I know this series was pretty high-level with some fancy words and names of hormones at times, but the final important message is this: the body doesn't work in a vacuum. We can't expect to spend a lifestyle shoving off issues (stress) to the side hoping that some pill will fix the problem. Until we deal with the issues at hand, our body is only going to continue to suffer until we reach a breaking point. And, trust me, nobody likes rock bottom.
Remember, if you would like to have any hormones and/or your cortisol tested, please let me know so we can discuss your options!