One of the most common causes of unhappy hormones that we see in Eve test results is stress. It’s a common word that gets used a lot but often in a very narrow sense. In this blog, we’ll change that.
Stress can be defined as ‘pressure or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.’ It’s is what makes us (or our subconscious) take action in the name of survival. When it occurs in the right amounts and at a healthy frequency, stress isn’t actually a bad thing; it’s often the kick we need to get stuff done.
Problems can, however, arise when stress becomes prolonged or chronic. When we are constantly living in a ‘fight or flight’ survival response (sympathetic nervous system), there isn’t much time to ‘rest and restore’ (parasympathetic nervous system).
Given that the vast majority of cells in our bodies have cortisol receptors, meaning they respond actuely to stress; it’s not surprising that this can have a huge impact on almost every aspect of our health. Including our sex hormones.
We’ve all been told, or felt we should, ‘reduce stress’. But what even is stress? And how do you even go about reducing it? Is a bath and lighting a candle enough?
Here are 7 types of stressors we encounter in our modern world. It’s only once we fully understand what stress is, that we can meaningfully go about reducing it.
1. Environmental Toxins
Stress in the body can come from toxins in our day-to-day environments.
Our bodies process and deal with a wide range of environmental toxins on a daily basis - arguably more than humans have ever faced before. Many of these are proven carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and have been linked to organ failure in high doses. Umm what???
Don’t stress (no pun intended), our bodies are designed to be able to detoxify harmful or unwanted substances, and in our modern world some exposure is inevitable. But it’s good to be aware of the main sources of toxin exposure so you can be mindful to reduce your exposure where possible.
Some of the most common include:
- herbicides and pesticides from the foods we eat;
- BPAs in plastics;
- Heavy metals such as mercury and lead - exposure is possible from eating fish, and from air pollution;
- Phylates, parabens, sulphates and other synthetic chemicals and fragrances in our skincare and cosmetic products;
- Fumes from certain chemicals and exhausts.
Our bodies can deal with, process and excrete low doses of these toxins. It becomes stressful when we’re exposed to multiple toxins, in larger amounts on a regular basis.
2. Food Intolerances and Sensitivities
Food intolerances are reactions to food that aren’t triggered by an immune reaction, but are generally driven by the body’s inability to break it down. This is often the result of a shortage of the relevant digestive enzymes, such as the lactase required to breakdown lactose in dairy products.
Food sensitivities on the other hand do involve an immune reaction, but are more the result of a gastrointestinal permeability or a ‘leaky gut’ and can be more of a temporary issue rather than an allergy that stays with you for life.
Booth intolerances and sensitivities involve foods that are unable to be broken down still have to be dealt with and excreted by the body somehow. What goes in must come out, right? But if the body doesn’t have the necessary team on call to break down the food its faced with, this can become somewhat stressful and takes a toll on the entire digestive system.
The most common culprits of food intolerances and sensitivities include dairy, eggs, gluten, citrus fruits, food additives, certain spices and flavour enhancers.
3. Inflammatory Foods
In simple terms, inflammation is essentially our immune system ‘fighting against something that may or may not turn out to be harmful.’
Similarly to food intolerances, certain foods are known to create inflammation in the body.
These can be foods such as:
- Damaged or poor quality fats
Our bodies always have our backs, and are always trying their hardest to keep us alive. So when they detect a substance that may be an ‘invader’, like one of the inflammatory foods listed above, they waste no time waiting to see whether that pinot gris you had with dinner is a poison or not. You body will commence the attack and defence right away.
Constantly fighting inflammatory substances puts the body under stress. These internal types of stress can be tough to spot as we often don’t notice any external signs of our bodies’ internal battles. That’s why it’s important to have awareness about what we’re putting into our bods.
As you are probably well aware, caffeine is a stimulant. The reason you feel more awake and alert after your flat white isn’t because it is a magical rich brown energy potion, but because it stimulates a ‘fight or flight’ response in the body.
Caffeinated beverages such as coffee and energy drinks literally trigger the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Needless to say, a stress response happens because the body is stressed. Therefore, caffeine is not something we want to be overdoing or relying on. Cappuccino with your eggs bennie on the weekend? Sweet. Three americanos to keep you going through a stressful work day? Not recommended.
5. Physical Stress
Not all that long ago, our only real physical stress was running away from a predator when hunting and gathering our food.
Fortunately, in our modern world we don't have to deal with saber tooth tigers all that often, however we are still pushing our bodies to the limit, often on a daily basis as well. Intense exercises such as HIIT classes, Crossfit and cardio can manifest in the body as forms of physical stress.
This isn’t to say these types of exercise are ‘bad’; exercise in the right amounts and at the right intensity can be hugely beneficial for our overall health, mood, sleep and hormones. Problems arise when we are not just ‘over-training’ but also ‘under-recovering.’ If your daily movement is making you more exhausted than energised, it might be time to reassess and try something new.
6. Artificial Light
You probably know that natural sunlight is great for our moods, hormones and overall health. However, the artificial light emitted from our devices and fluro lighting can actually have the opposite effect.
Blue light can prevent our bodies from releasing melatonin - the hormone that makes us sleepy. Messing with our natural melatonin production can result in poor quality sleep and throw our circadian rhythm (essentially our sleep/wake cycle) out of whack. Sleep is also essential for happy hormones y’all.
When it comes to sleep, we thrive on routine. If you’ve ever been jetlagged, you’ll know exactly what poor sleep and a messed up circadian rhythm feels like (spoiler - it’s not fun).
Sleep deprivation doesn’t just make us feel like trash, it’s also a stressful situation for our bodies to deal with, having a flow on effect to our hormones, energy, appetite, mood, blood sugar and much more.
7. Emotional Stress
This final point is probably the first one that springs to mind when we think of ‘stress’ itself.
Emotional stress is the stories and meaning we assign to external events that take place in day to day life. For example, emotional stress may be the result of a busy period at work, financial trouble, a break up, pressure to live up to your own expectations etc. (Side note to ponder: it’s never the actual fact or event that is stressful, rather it’s our thoughts and feelings about the event that cause us stress. So mindful awareness is key for managing emotional stress).
To the body, the emotional stress of thinking about how bad a situation in our lives is, is exactly the same as running from a tiger, or any of the other types of stress highlighted in this blog.
Many Stressors; One Response
Whether stress is coming from external events, sabre tooth tigers or any of the other points stressors outlined in this blog, to your body it’s all the same.
Our bodies have one stress response: hypothalamic gland tells the pituitary gland we’re in trouble. Pituitary gland tells the adrenals to produce and release stress hormones. The sympathetic nervous system is activated. This is a normal, healthy process. It’s just when this loop is on heavy rotation that issues, such as hormone imbalance, can occur.
Rest assured, the aim of this blog is not to scare you into thinking that the modern world is a crazy, stressful place; but to educate and empower you. The more you know about stress, the more you can mindfully do about it.
Looking for more information? Head over to our FAQs page where you can find out about Eve, what the Eve Hormone Balance Test measures, when the best time to test your hormones is, and more.
Don’t forget to check out our blog 5 Common Signs of Hormone Imbalances to see if those physical sensations you’re experiencing could be hormone related.