Have you ever had a super stressful week and felt incredibly drained and exhausted by Friday? Sure, you might feel physically tired because you worked so hard, but exhaustion from extreme stress runs deeper than that.
It can’t be cured by just a good night’s sleep. If not properly managed, chronic stress can lead you to a complete physical, mental, and emotional meltdown totally zapping your energy.
How Stress Works
Stress starts in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, the stress control tower. It triggers the “fight or flight” response, signaling your adrenal glands to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. This signals your body to get ready to run away or fight a potential attacker.
Your heart rate increases, energy is diverted to your muscles, and digestion slows. This is an amazing response if you come face to face with a tiger, but not so good when your stress response keeps going triggering because you were cut off in traffic.1
Over time, if your stress hormones are chronically elevated this can lead to multiple health problems, from heart disease to poor immune function. Stress also impacts your energy levels by causing an imbalance in stress hormones called HPA-axis dysfunction, commonly referred to as adrenal fatigue.
Stress and Energy
A 2011 study evaluated the connection between chronic fatigue and HPA-axis dysfunction. Researchers found that women with chronic fatigue also tended to have low levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Of the subjects who already had diagnosed HPA-axis dysfunction, their symptoms of chronic fatigue were more severe and they did not respond as well to treatment.
The study also found a connection between low cortisol, depression, early-life stress, and low physical activity levels. Interestingly, cortisol levels could be improved with the use of cognitive behavioral therapy to help manage stress and other mental health issues.2
Managing Stress for More Energy
Sometimes we are so stressed, we don’t even know how to not be stressed. Taking time out for yourself can feel like adding one more thing to your to-do list. But, there are many simple ways you can reduce your stress that won’t take up a huge amount of time. Here are a few suggestions:
- Eat for energy.When you are stressed one of the best things you can do to keep your energy levels up is to eat a healthy diet. A diet loaded with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats will help keep your hormones regulated and support your increased needs.
- Sleep. Getting enough sleep is easier said than done, especially if you are struggling with abnormal cortisol levels. But, do whatever you can to get at least 8 hours nightly. A strict bedtime routine can help, as can avoiding alcohol and screens before bed.
- Have a hard stop time. For most of us our “to-do” list is never ending. We could probably keep working, cleaning, and doing things for eternity. Having a hard stop time can help you let go of some of the to-dos, allowing time for relaxation at the end of the day.
- Take a stress support supplement. There are many herbs available on the market that have adaptogenic or stress management properties. Ashwagandha is an extensively researched herb that can promote relaxation and counteract the physical effects of stress.
Regardless of which method you choose, for optimal energy stress management must become part of your regular routine.
Yours in Health-
Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD
IVL’s Community Registered Dietitian
- NIMH » 5 Things You Should Know About Stress. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml. Accessed October 30, 2019.
- Papadopoulos AS, Cleare AJ. Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysfunction in chronic fatigue syndrome. Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2011;8(1):22-32.