The Risks Associated with your High Stress Job
By Pip Reed
Being part of this modern, active world means that many of us are working more hours than ever before, blurring the lines of the classic 9-5. We are reading work emails before bed, during the night and then again as soon as we wake; we are keeping up with what our friends are up to on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, and we are losing the ability to ‘switch off’ and have some ‘Me Time’as a result. All of this, while seemingly convenient, can inevitably lead to excessive stress.
Low level stress is often a normal part of our everyday lives, allowing us to make decisions, react to situations and get our work done, as well as increasing to provide adrenalin when we are on a tight deadline, or racing across a busy road. But when it becomes consistent or prolonged stress, it starts to cause a host of issues in our bodies, including sleep problems, fatigue, cravings, weight issues, anxiety, and depression.
These symptoms are the sign of something more sinister going on in our bodies, a problem which is increasing impacting the lives of so many people: these are the signs of a hormone imbalance.
We require our stress hormone ‘cortisol’ to live, breathe and function on a day to day basis. When our stress increases, our cortisol increases to allow us to react to situations, as in the ‘fight or flight’ response that was so necessary in our caveman days. However a prolonged increase is what leads to an eventual imbalance as our body cannot sustain these high pressures and stress levels.
A hormone imbalance as a result of this prolonged stress can cause the following:
Weight gain: our bodies are not designed to metabolise cortisol and insulin (glucose from sugars and carbs) at the same time. During prolonged periods of high stress, your body reacts in much the same way and cannot metabolise the food you eat properly, causing insulin resistance and that all too common weight gain around the waist, which is difficult to lose no matter how much exercise and dieting you inflict on yourself.
Low energy and poor sleep: a vicious cycle of being stressed is poor sleep quality despite feeling fatigued. Having difficulty switching off, falling asleep, feeling most awake just before bedtime, and waking through the night are all indicators of high stress levels which causes unstable blood sugars, cravings, that 3am wake time and caffeine addictions. This continual cycle is difficult to break if no lifestyle changes are implemented, causing even more distress, fatigue and increasing hormone imbalances.
Low libido: it may seem inevitable that low energy and poor sleep equates to a poor sex drive, but it’s actually deeper than that. Prolonged heightened stress levels start to affect our sex hormones, often increasing oestrogen or decreasing testosterone in both men and women, leaving you feeling far less than sexy or in the mood for sex.
Thyroid malfunction: hyper and hypothyroidism are a result of your thyroid not producing hormones in the correct amounts, with a leading cause being high stress/cortisol levels, and/or an imbalance in your sex hormones Symptoms include the inability to lose weight or steady weight gain, fatigue, loss of hair, thinning of the outer half of the eyebrows, unexplained weight loss or the inability to put on weight, irritability, anxiety and sleep issues.
Depression: Continual heightened stress may eventually lead to a change in your mood and brain health, including increased anxiety, feeling flat or down, increased PMS symptoms, irritability, insomnia and/or depression. If you are feeling any change in your mood, please contact your health professional and inform a loved one of how you are feeling.
If you feel that you are stressed or if you suffer from any of the above symptoms I would suggest seeking out the help of your healthcare practitioner, or have a free 30-minute consult with us at thehealthclinic.com.au. These are all problems that should be sorted out sooner than later and you need a support network to assist you.
A few lifestyle hacks to apply as well include:
CLEAN UP YOUR DIET
When we’re overly stressed and/or tired, we tend to gravitate towards comfort foods that are often high in processed nasties such as refined sugar, sodium and starchy carbohydrates. These foods cause inflammation in your body, which can leave you feeling more tired and sluggish, increase cravings and often left feeling worse than before eating.
I suggest cutting all the processed, artificial and stimulating food from your diet.
STICK TO THE SAME SLEEP/WAKE CYCLE
When you’re stressed it’s common for sleep to become disrupted, with our overactive minds and unstable blood sugars often causing us to wake throughout the night. Therefore it’s important that you try to keep a normal bed routine to remind your body when to switch off and turn back on again. I would also suggest turning off your electronics, especially your phone around 2 hours before bed to help limit the anxiety and stimulation, and having a teaspoon of honey and almond butter before bed for blood sugar stabilisation.
Yes, you may be tired but exercise is imperative for counteracting the effects stress can have on you by releasing those happy endorphins, making you feel energised and allowing you to focus on the day ahead. On the other hand, too much exercise can cause your body to hold onto weight as a stress reaction, so it’s good to find a balance.
Pip Reed is the Co-Founder of TheHealthClinic.com.au, a Nutritionist, PT and Yoga-Fit instructor, with over ten years experience in the industry.