You have a high toxic burden
Regular exposure to some types of pesticides, solvents, and heavy metals can produce neurotoxin-like effects in the brain (6). This is known to cause changes in mood, energy, and irritability. Read more about safe, effective support for detoxification.
You’re staying up late and constantly hitting snooze
Not only can poor sleep lead to a heightened stress response, but going to bed late can actually put your body in a fight-or-flight response. When you stay up late, your body shifts its natural cortisol cycle.
Research shows a strong link between high cortisol levels and cardiovascular disease, with increased severity of heart attacks in the early morning when cortisol levels are highest (7). It is important to wake up and go to bed at roughly the same time as this helps to regulate your cortisol levels and reduce stress.
Some types of excessive, high-intensity exercise make it more likely you’ll have chronically elevated cortisol levels (8). Over-exercising can lead to negative effects upon levels of important neurotransmitters such as dopamine and 5-HTP, which increase feelings of depression and fatigue (9).
The stress caused by overtraining can dysregulate the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA axis), possibly contributing to other hormonal conditions such as hypothyroidism. High stress is known to flare symptoms of hypothyroidism, and this includes the physical stress from prolonged, intense exercise (10).
Physical signs of a fight-or-flight response
Chronically high levels of cortisol can increase your risk for a variety of health issues, and cause sleep disturbances, digestive issues, depression, and weight gain. Excess cortisol also encourages fat gain, particularly around the abdomen.
The long-term activation of the fight-or-flight response and dysregulated cortisol levels can lead to many health issues, including:
- Difficulty concentrating/brain fog
- Getting sick more often/immune weakness
- High blood pressure
- Insomnia or trouble sleeping
- Digestive trouble like diarrhea or malabsorption issues
- Changes in mood
- Weight gain or loss (often due to hormonal changes)
- Sugar and carbohydrate cravings
- Teeth grinding
- Obsessive or compulsive behaviors
Read: The Integrative Guide to Stress Management
Stress management with functional medicine
- Craniosacral Therapy. The goal of Craniosacral therapy is to engage the body’s natural self-correcting ability, improve wellbeing, and reduce internal tension. This may help you better manage stress.
- Acupuncture encourages the body to switch off the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight response) and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as “rest-and-digest”. This prompts the heart rate to slow, as well as blood pressure and cortisol levels to decrease. Acupuncture has been shown to improve stress-related complaints, such as trouble sleeping, energy, chronic pain, and migraines.
- Massage therapy has also been proven a valuable tool in stress reduction in integrative health. Similar to acupuncture, massage therapy can also release feel-good hormones from the brain, such as oxytocin. This helps facilitate shifting your nervous system to a more relaxed state while decreasing the release of stress hormones like cortisol.
How Functional Medicine Can Help
Functional medicine looks at all the factors influencing your health, from nutrition, hormones, and environment to lifestyle, sleep, and stress. It seeks to identify the underlying factors driving your health problems and create a personalized plan that takes into account all of these elements.
By addressing imbalances in nutrition, hormones, and other biochemical processes, functional medicine can help you regain control over your body’s response to stress. With proper care and support, you can learn to manage stressful situations and prevent them from taking a toll on your health.