“Stress is like a tight rope!” This was my realisation the other night while watching embarrassingly bad late night TV. You know when you get those little light bulb moments? Well this wasn’t so much a light bulb but a circus tent. I clearly saw a silken costumed clown balancing precariously on a high wire tight rope.
Let me explain. Cortisol is one of our hormones that helps us respond to stress. If we are happily relaxed, with very little stress and perfectly functioning adrenal glands our cortisol levels peak in the morning, drop steadily during the day, until finally becoming almost nonexistent by the time we are ready for bed. This hormone gives us our get up and go, the energy and motivation to jump out of bed and face the world. It is also a very important survival safety net. If a circus tiger jumps out of the ring and tries to eat us, our body floods itself with cortisol and we have that fight or flight response so we can escape.
Over the years, less and less tigers have jumped out at us, so our bodies have started responding to our “modern day tigers”. These can be simple things such as deadlines, traffic, work, family life, and any number of different personal stressors. This has resulted in a situation nowadays where many people are walking around feeling completely wired, stuck in that fight or flight mode. They are teetering to the left of their tight rope, their cortisol levels extremely high. Alternatively, you have those people teetering to the right, whose adrenals have all but given up and stopped producing the right amount of cortisol to keep them going. Here you find the extreme fatigue, the lack of motivation and often depression. Think of it as a scale, high is very bad, low is very bad, and in the middle is juuuuuuust right! Oh, now I’m sounding like Goldilocks!
Getting back to my crappy late night TV show. There I was watching an embarrassingly addictive British show where doctors explore all sorts of medical issues not normally talked about on air. You probably know the one. There are usually lots of embarrassed teenagers with uncomfortable neither regions. Anyway, in this particular episode they were talking about stress. They walked around the streets on London and selected a handful of people to undergo their stress test. A small disc was placed in the volunteers mouth and saliva collected. The saliva was then tested for cortisol levels. Every single participant came back with heightened levels of cortisol, indicating to the doctors that everyone was over stressed, stuck in that fight or flight mode. Everyone that is, except one lady. The doctors were impressed! They congratulated her, asking her to please disclose the secret of not having stress in her life! The lady giggled nervously and looked sheepish. And that’s where I saw my tightrope.
This lady was overweight, puffy from fluid retention, with dark rings under her eyes, clutching a large coffee as though her life depended on it and here we see a naturopaths perfect example of a person teetering to the right of that tight rope. She looked like her adrenals had taken such a bettering over years and years of long term stress (and caffeine use) that they were on the verge of giving up. The doctors saw a low cortisol result and thought low stress, I saw a low cortisol result, PLUS the coffee, PLUS her eyes, PLUS her general appearance of exhaustion and thought SUPER STRESSED!!!! This difference in understanding is something naturopaths have long recognised, but is still not fully accepted by the medical profession.
Medical practitioners in Australia do not usually use salivary testing to obtain cortisol levels, they normally use blood tests. Naturopaths will predominantly use saliva. It is incredibly common to see “normal” cortisol blood results and either extremely high or low cortisol results through saliva testing. This can mean relying on blood tests alone may miss an obvious adrenal problem and the chance to address that problem is lost.
Stress is not a disease, nor is a normal part of every day life. It is not something we should have to live with, or something we just need to get used to. It is not part of the job. It is something we need to be aware of and realise it is well within our control to manage. Natural medicines, dietary and lifestyle changes can make enormous differences in how we feel stress, how we respond to stress and how we recover from a stressful event. We only get one set of adrenals, these little glands have to last us our whole lives so we need to look after and nurture them! We want to be able to keep balancing on that tight rope till the show is over.
Yoga, meditation, moderate exercise, fun, hobbies, and relaxation are lifestyle changes that can help the body recover and better manage stress. Vitamin C, B6, B5, salt and hydration are vital to nourish the adrenal glands. And there are a multitude of herbs out there that can help lower cortisol if levels are too high, or raise cortisol if levels are too low. It is very important to seek the help of a qualified naturopath for treatment if you are wanting to investigate this area further.
For more information on Saliva Hormone Testing visit http://salivahormonereport.com/