Counselling and Hypnotherapy by Clare Rusby
Cert .Hyp CS, Dip CST
Stress and Anxiety... the good and the bad
My passion is the reduction of stress and anxiety in my role of Hypnotherapist and Pranic Healer. Hypnotherapy is so successful because it deals with the reduction of Cortisol which is the steroid hormone released by the body in response to stress.
Cortisol, a glucocorticoid (steroid hormone) is produced from cholesterol in the two adrenal glands located on top of each kidney in response to events and circumstances resulting in a stress response and is the chemical released when the body goes into fight or flight mode which is the bodies reaction to stress. It is the body’s survival mechanism and should work as follows:
1. Individual faced with stressful event.
2. Hormonal response ensures, the adrenal glands secrete cortisol
3. Cortisol prepares the body for fight -or- flight response by flooding it with glucose, supplying an immediate energy source to large muscles
4. Cortisol inhibits insulin production in an attempt to prevent glucose from being stored so forcing its immediate use
5. Cortisol narrows the arteries while epinephrine increases heart rate, both of which force blood to pump harder and faster
6. The individual addresses and resolves the situation
7. Hormone levels return to normal
BUT… if a person is constantly stressed and constantly producing cortisol the body cannot regulate itself, which causes problems for a person’s physical, as well as mental health.
A large percentage of the population suffer with chronic stress and/or anxiety. Stress is our bodies’ natural reaction to fear and change. Our subconscious, which is responsible for our survival, sends us into fight or flight mode when it perceives a threat to us. Unfortunately, it does not differentiate between genuine life- threatening danger and every day occurrences such as a meeting with the boss or being late for work.
Some people can deal with stress much better than others, we all know someone who crumbles at the least problem whereas others seem to remain strong and positive during a crisis. Part of a person’s ability to deal with stress is genetic and the other is environmental but unfortunately, they often go together. We can inherit a lessened ability to cope with stress from our parents but that is also likely to mean that we grow up in an environment where we perceive the world to be scary, dangerous place. This does not get us off to a very good start in life.
We all need a certain amount of stress in our lives or we would not be motivated to do anything at all. When a person is bored or unchallenged and lacks motivation such as carrying out a boring tedious job or not working at all this may result in a lack of motivation in other areas of life. Short term stress gives us the strength and motivation we need to complete day to day tasks and occurs when we increase physical and mental activity. We all need this to increase performance and motivation and this is really good for us.
However, when the level of stress or length of stress duration goes above and beyond what we need to get us out of bed and achieve things in our day, this is when things start to go wrong with our mind and our bodies.
Anxiety sets in when we are subjected to long term stress or when we feel threatened by something or someone. Unfortunately, many of us can suffer from general anxiety when we cannot pinpoint anything in particular that we should be worrying about. Feeling anxious makes us worry, which makes us more anxious and so the cycle builds and can eventually lead to depression if not resolved.
Stress and anxiety will affect our whole being, our emotions, our behaviour and our physical health.
Physical symptoms of anxiety and stress alone can manifest as
• Tense muscles
• Churning stomach
• Heart Palpitations
• Numbness/pins and needles
• Sweating or flushing
• Sleep disturbances
• Sexual Dysfunction
But when Cortisol levels raise to unmanageable levels, physical problems get a whole lot worse.
Before going into the signs of having too much Cortisol I should explain a little about the production of cortisol and what it actually does. As I’ve already said, it’s a steroid hormone that is produced in the adrenal glands at the top of the kidneys. Fasting, food intake, exercise, awakening as well as stress cause the body to release cortisol. It is produced irregularly with peak secretions in the early morning which should then taper out into the late afternoon and evening allowing you to sleep. It regulates energy by selecting the right type and amount of substrate i.e. carbohydrate, fat or protein that is needed by the body to meet the physiological demands that is placed on it. Cortisol mobilises energy by tapping into the body’s fat stores (in the form of triglycerides) and moving it from one location to another or delivering it to hungry tissues such as working muscle. Under stressful conditions cortisol can provide the body with protein for energy production through gluconeogenesis, the process of converting amino acids into useable carbohydrate (glucose) in the liver.
Our bodies are wonderful things, under the direction of our brilliant minds (and even without express direction) we can fix broken bones, heal ulcers, skin cells, retard ageing, fight infection and fight cancer cells but these self-repair mechanisms do not work if under acute stress hence why we end up ill.
Signs you have too much Cortisol in your system:
Not sleeping well- Cortisol levels are supposed to drop at night so you can relax and sleep. But when levels of cortisol are high you may find you get a second wind around bedtime even if you’ve been tired all day. When you do sleep it will be less likely to be the deep(REM) sleep you need to recharge and so when you wake up you still feel tired resulting in chronic fatigue. Lack of sleep in itself raises cortisol so you really can’t win!
Gaining weight, especially around the abdomen even when eating well and exercising - High cortisol levels make it nearly impossible to lose weight for a couple of reasons, first, it stimulates the appetite for high-energy foods full of fat and carbohydrates (uncontrollable cravings) and we are more likely to over-eat. Second, when we try to diet this makes the body feel threatened and results in yet more cortisol release and third any time cortisol is elevated in the presence of insulin, like after a high a high carb meal, the body switches into fat storage mode due to an increase in the primary fat storing enzyme called lipoprotein lipase (LPL). Insulin blocks the action of another major fat burning enzyme, hormone sensitive lipase (HSL). The combination of high insulin and cortisol is the perfect environment for gaining body fat. Fat is deposited in the abdominal area which is actually a protective mechanism for the body because belly fat provides an easy source of energy for the body when it senses a crisis. Belly fat is more easily burned than subcutaneous fat (i.e. the layer just below the skin you can pinch)
Also, the liver will be working to reduce cortisol levels along with other chemicals that it wants out of the body and so stores what is sees as poison in fat in close proximity to it where it backs up waiting to break it down when it can.
More prone to infections and colds – Cortisol de-activates your body’s natural self-repair mechanisms so you are left open to catch infections and colds which your body would normally fight off. It impairs your immune system considerably and can cause an increase in allergies.
Increased backaches, neckaches, headaches…. – When cortisol levels are high over a long period of time your adrenal glands get depleted. This raises prolactin levels which increases the body’s sensitivity to pain, such as backaches, and general muscle aches. The brain is also hypersensitized so even the slightest twinge can excite the nerves in the brain causing headaches
Gut/digestion issues - just about everyone has experienced a stomach problem due to intense stress because when cortisol is elevated the body releases histamine that revs up the immune system increasing gastric acid secretion leading to the release of other compounds that increase gut permeability and cause it to leak. When this becomes chronic, digestion gets permanently disrupted causing problems all over the body. So, you may experience nausea, heartburn, abdominal cramps, wind, diarrhoea or constipation.
Mood swings, Anxiety and depression – you feel anxious all the time, jittery, nervous stomach, feelings of panic, depression and often never feel truly calm or truly happy. This because as you start to worry the brain activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis that regulates the number of hormones including cortisol.
Lack of libido – your sex life can become non- existent as your libido enhancing hormones such as testosterone drop. Consider cortisol as the anti-Viagra!
Prolonged periods of stress also use up most nutrients more quickly as all our systems including energy, brain responses, hormones and immunity are all working at a higher and faster rate. This can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies in the long run which show themselves as:
Cracked lips (vitamin B6)
Teeth Grinding (vitamin B5)
White spots on nails (zinc)
Constipation and diarrhoea (magnesium)
Bleeding gums (vitamin C)
Raised spots on limbs (vitamin E)
Throat and chest infections (vitamin A)
Do any of these apply to you ? The fact you are even looking at the list suggests you are experiencing probably not just one but several of the above problems and have been for some time.
It's time to make a change NOW, contact me today and start to feel better mentally, emotionally and physically much quicker than you would think possible.