Holidays come with many joys and pleasures such as themed parties, get-togethers, seasonal foods and treats, and seeing family and friends. However, there are also many stress-inducing factors associated with the holidays such as themed parties, get-togethers, worrying about your waistline, and seeing family and friends. If you're not careful, you can quickly become overwhelmed with various holiday obligations that pile on top of any preexisting stressors from work, relationships, or other commitments.
During this time of year regulating your stress level is critical even though it may require extra effort!
Stress negatively impacts your body in a variety of ways. The physiological effects of stress can impact your mood, health, energy level, and even cause physical pain!
One of the primary ways that stress influences bodily function is through cortisol and the adrenals. When the body perceives that it is being threatened by an event or situation, whether it be real or imagined, the stress response is activated. This causes a release of cortisol which is aptly titled the stress hormone.
As cortisol levels increase, the body enters into a state of “fight or flight,” which focuses all bodily energy on survival. Unfortunately, this can result in neglect of other important areas. Maintaining a heightened stress level for an extended period causes collapse and dysfunction in various other systems such as the thyroid, blood sugar levels, and the immune system.
Stress and the HPAT
Thyroid function is greatly influenced by the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal-thyroid-axis (HPAT). When the adrenals release excess cortisol, the hypothalamus and pituitary glands’ hormone production slows. This causes the thyroid to also slow down resulting in poor thyroid hormone production – learn more about the adrenal-thyroid connection here.
Frequently, slowed thyroid function leads to reduced metabolism, difficulty thinking clearly, and aches or pains. In addition to slowing hormone production, stress impedes enzymes needed to convert the storage form of thyroid hormone (T4) into the active form (T3). Without proper conversion of these hormones your body can experience major dysfunction.
Insulin and Blood Glucose
When excess cortisol is present in your system, insulin can become suppressed. Insulin regulates glucose levels in the bloodstream and influences how much is transferred to your cells.
As stress increases, cells become less receptive to insulin meaning that sugars remain in the bloodstream resulting in elevated blood glucose levels. This also contributes to poor energy management and may leave you feeling fatigued when you normally wouldn’t be.
Inflammation is one of the largest contributors of disease and illness! It is almost always present in those with chronic conditions. And stress is a major contributor of inflammation.
When inflammation is present the immune system attempts to regulate it. Unfortunately, when the body is highly stressed and has already entered the “fight or flight” state, immune function becomes inhibited. This reduces your ability to manage inflammation and combat illness. If you gets sick while stressed you may experience even greater physiological and mental exhaustion.
Learning to Destress
Even though the holidays are meant to be a time for celebrating they are often accompanied by a great deal of stress. Recognizing the need to prepare and combat stress during this time of the year is critical to staying happy and healthy during the holiday season!
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