When I talk to people about stress, there are those who tell me outright they are stressed and those who tell me that they’re not.
For those who say they’re not, there will, of course, be some who genuinely do not feel stress. There are those who connect more with the experience of “worry” than “stress”. And there are also those who may think they’re not stressed and yet their bodies are showing numerous signs that they are.
How can this be?
While stress is often psychological, it can also be nutritional and biochemical. For example, you may have a great mental resilience to cope with anything life throws your way and be eating in a way that does not provide your body with the nourishment it needs to function optimally. Nutrients are what drives all of the vital biochemical processes that create health in your body. And without enough of nutrients, you’re going to be inadvertently adding to your body’s stress load.
It is possible too, to consciously think you’re not stressed and unconsciously be driving stress hormone production. This is because we have two thought systems—I like to call them Old Brain and New Brain. The problem is, they don’t talk to each other. Old brain is rapid, emotional and intuitive (with ‘intuitive’ in this instance meaning a reactive, instantaneous processing that occurs based on prior patterns, associations and experiences we’ve unconsciously concocted about what kept us safe), while New Brain is much slower, and able to calculate and rationalise. The New Brain doesn’t automatically examine the Old Brain and understand why it does what it does. New Brain doesn’t usually even know that Old Brain has made a decision and led you to feel a certain way!
Image Credit: The Invisible Load / Stephanie Antill
And this is where a significant amount of our stress comes from today. Even if your New Brain thinks you are managing just fine, your Old Brain may be busy creating meanings from the situations you are involved with in an attempt to keep you safe—and you may not even realise it.
This is why it’s always a wonderful idea to tune into your body’s messages and learn to decipher what it is trying to communicate to you.
How does stress show up in the body?
Well, this is where it gets tricky. It can be anything from digestive disruptions to poor sleep, hormonal challenges to blood pressure problems.
Regardless of whether you ‘feel stressed’ or not, your body may be reacting as if some things are stressful and trying to send you a signal if you are experiencing:
- Low progesterone
- Problems with your periods which might look like heavy, clotty periods, irregular periods, PMS, or debilitating menopausal symptoms
- Conditions related to your menstrual cycle such as polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Sugar cravings
- Poor short-term memory
- Thyroid challenges
- Regularly disturbed sleep or waking up feeling tired
- Digestive system problems such as IBS or bloating
- Pervading fatigue or bone-deep exhaustion
- Mental fuzziness
- Regular anxious thoughts/feelings
- High blood pressure or low blood pressure
If any of these symptoms are familiar to you and, no matter what you have tried, you can’t seem to get to the bottom of them, it may be related to the constant, relentless production of stress hormones. Or an intake of nutrients that is not high enough to meet your body’s biochemical needs.
What can you do about it?
First of all, you’ll need to figure out whether there are factors such as biochemical or nutritional stress that your body is dealing with, and whether this is contributing to elevated stress levels, even if you feel ‘fine’. You may like to start by focussing on increasing your intake of whole, real foods, and minimising processed foods, as this will help you either way. If increasing your nutrient intake doesn’t alleviate the symptom/s, you may like to start exploring ways to reduce stress hormone production in your body. You can find a list of suggestions in this article here.