Stress presents itself in may ways. There’s one thing I’ve learned in clinical practice as Naturopath, and that is truth behind the saying that no two bodies are the same. By the time a client has walked into my door, for whatever health concern, they have already done the first step in stress management. No two cases of PCOS will look the same. No two fertility journeys will look the same. And no two people will experience and express chronic stress in their bodies the same way.
When I first was studying to be a Naturopath, I came across this fact. In a 2009 research paper, it found that 75-90% of visits to primary care physicians, such as GPs, are related to stress?
Now, that’s not saying that 75% of patient sit opposite to their GP and say “I’m stressed”, but what it means is 75-90% of folks who showed up to a GP had signs, symptoms, and conditions that were either caused by, or related to their stress levels. These are the ways in which stress presents itself to us.
how stress presents itself to you.
So, why have I shared this with you? It’s to illustrate that stress presents in a variety of ways, and some of them may not be the first thing you think of when you think of stress. That funny tummy you’ve started experiencing despite no change in your diet. That deep fatigue you have that B Vitamins don’t seem to touch. Or how about those erratic periods you’ve been having? They could all be due to chronic stress.
HAVE YOU GOT TUMMY TROUBLES?
Are you starting to bloat after almost every meal? Finding that you’re reacting to foods that never used to be a bother? How about noticing that you’re going to the toilet more (or sometimes less) frequently than you’re used to?
Whilst there are many pathological reasons for tummy troubles, such as viruses and bacteria, stress can also drastically affect out guts. But sometimes, it’s to do with our brain. Or, more specifically our nervous system.
THE BODY STRESS SYSTEM
We have one nervous system, with two pathways. At any given time, you can only be on one pathway, like a choose your own adventure book. You’ve got the fight or flight, or sympathetic nervous system. And you’ve got the rest n digest, or parasympathetic nervous system.
Now many of you are familiar with the fight or flight response. It’s the nervous system pathway that takes over when we’re about to do something a lil scary or stressful. In fight or flight the blood is pumped to your heart and your limbs so you can run away or fight. The blood is diverted away from our digestive system.
ARE YOU IN REST AND DIGEST?
Rest and digest mode, however, is all about what the name suggests. We flick the switch onto our parasympathetic nervous system. The driving hormone of this system this is ATCH, which triggers our hormones responsible for digestion, sleep, and regulation of hormones to be produced.
So, based on the above information, can you see how stress might affect or be a contributing factor to your tummy trebles? Because when we’re stressed, all the blood and energy is diverted away from our guts. This means we’re not making the digestive enzymes we need, or we’re not churning our broken down food well enough in our guts. Stress can present itself as our transit time in our bowels are either sped up or slowed down.
IS YOUR BRAIN FOGGY?
Brain fog is another super common issue I see in clinic. Most of the time though, clients attribute brain fog to “oh, I’m just a bit tired”, or “I’m a mum, it’s part in parcel”. Like tummy troubles, brain fog can be indicative to a few pathological concerns, but I often like to rule out stress as a contributing factor first.
The role stress plays, and how stress presents itself as brain fog is twofold. The first is stress and lack of sleep resulting in brain fog. When we are chronically stressed, we may get elevated levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that has a natural 24 hours cycle; it’s supposed to peak in the morning and lower as the day progresses. Cortisol works in opposition to our sleepy hormone, melatonin. If cortisol is elevated, melatonin won’t kick in. If melatonin isn’t around, we may start experiencing problems with sleep. This is where, you guessed it, you may start experiencing brain fog!
The other way stress may be causing our brain fog is due to its effects on our brains physical shape and connectivity. Ongoing stress can affect the structure and function of different areas of the brain, as it is designed to reshape and rewire itself in response to different experiences, thoughts, and emotions. This is called the brains neuroplasticity.
One way that stress may cause brain fog is it’s an affect on the neuroplasticity of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a part of the brain associated with memory, learning and emotion. Stress may cause the dendrites of the neuron to withdraw, leading to shrinkage of the brain. As this brain area is associated with memory and learning, a decrease in size may result in a decrease in function, and therefore we get brain fog.
Get present with how stress presents itself
So, do either of these two issues affect your daily life? I invite you take a moment and be really honest with yourself. Do you think stress may be impacting your health and wellness more than you initially thought? Part of a Naturopathic consultation with me reviews your stress profile and assesses its likelihood of impacting your health outcomes. If you’re tired of feeling tired, and sick of feeling shit, book your appointment with me today.
- Jenna Verhoeven
- mental health, mindfullness, stress