Most of have experienced various physical symptoms when we are faced with a situation we feel we are unable to cope with, often described as feeling stressed. Those feelings might be tightness in the stomach, racing heart, sweaty palms, irritability and difficulty sleeping. The symptoms of acute stress are normal physiological responses to a perceived threat. This served our hunter gather ancestors well as they could quickly escape from a tiger, a physical threat to survival. The release of cortisol ensured that physically we would have more blood shunted to the arms and legs to move fast and a good supply of glucose in the blood to fuel that energy to escape from danger. A few thousand years on the dangers that threaten our survival are not so much physical (ie a tiger) but work deadlines, household bills, driving on the roads – in fact anything that is perceived as a threat to our existence.
If this occurs infrequently (acute stress) it is not a health concern and is the body’s way of preparing us to respond to danger and then after the danger has passed the body returns to homeostasis (or normal). However if the trigger or stressor doesn’t go and becomes prolonged, the stress response remains switched on and unable to return to homeostasis and then the signs of burnout (severe fatigue) become apparent. Long term stress can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, depression, insomnia, sex hormone imbalance, insulin resistance and osteoporosis.
Naturopathic practitioners use various assessments to help identify how stress is affecting an individual in addition to information collected during a consultation. Cortisol can be measured by a fasting blood test first thing in the morning or by a salivary hormone collection taken at various intervals throughout the day (assessing diurnal secretion). Also a questionnaire called the DASS (Depression, Anxiety, Stress Scale) may also be used to help a practitioner decide on the appropriate course of treatment. An individual may benefit from referral for psychotherapy, counselling or meditation to learn mechanisms for how to cope with stress.
Herbal medicines that may help with reducing anxiety include Passionflower, Chamomile, St. John’s Wort and Lemon Balm which are classed as nervines and exert a calming effect on the nervous system. From a nutritional perspective, Magnesium helps in the production of GABA (an inhibitory chemical messenger), the amino acids L-Theanine, Tyrosine, GABA and B vitamins all provide support via different mechanisms.
What is often forgotten, is that a state of calm is the body’s set default and that chronic stress or anxiety is not something you have to learn to live with – in most instances it is debilitating and takes away from the joy of living. Contact Melisa on 0402 302 090 to find out how she can support you with naturopathic medicine to help you feel more calm and better able to cope with life’s stressors.