The Stress Circus

by Rhianna on June 12, 2012

“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



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9 commentsAdd comment

James Andrey June 28, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Many people find that a hobby which has no deadlines, no pressures, and which can be picked up or left easily, takes the mind off stresses. For example: sports, knitting, music, model-making, puzzles, and reading for pleasure.

James Andrey
Kefir Starter

Peter Tande June 29, 2012 at 11:27 am

James – I actually find those more stressful! Without a deadline, my mind defaults to “do it as quickly as possible so I can get back to those things with the deadlines”!

Josh July 3, 2012 at 6:33 pm

Identifying the things that stress you out in your life is the first step towards eliminating them. Simplify your routines and instead of rushing through life, learn to take things slow. Exercising helps relieve the stress eat healthy and maintain a fitness regime.

Josh Nelson

Mark Stevens July 4, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Today everything need to go so fast for some reason. I think also technology is a contributing factor to stressors.

Honeybee (@HealthBeautyBlg) July 9, 2012 at 8:45 am

Stress is a natural part of life. You cannot delete stress like simply pressing the ‘delete’ button on your keyboard. But you can deal stress the healthy way and get your life back. You can make your own home as a place to unwind you from stress.
1) Create a spa environment in your own home.
– Pamper yourself in your very own bathroom. Light an aromatherapy candles and turn on soothing music at the background to get the mood. Drop a few aromatherapy oil in your bath water. Lock the bathroom door and switch off your phone to avoid any disruption. Take your time to relax.

2) Try out new recipes
It’s impossible to find a house without foods. Show some skills, and cook like a masterchef. If you lack of ideas, shop for a recipe books in bookstore. There are a lot. You can also simply browse the internet and try to cook your favorite food.


Rhianna July 17, 2012 at 3:30 am

Thanks for all your input!

You’re right James, finding a passion and allowing yourself to relax through it is a fantastic way to reduce stress. Hobbies/passions are so different for everyone. To relax my friend cleans the house! To me that is work, but to her, she feels relaxed and blissful sitting on her lounge with a cup of tea in her beautiful clean home!

Peter I know what you mean. It can be very difficult to change that mind set. Nowadays many people have lost the ability to relax. They feel it is “wasting time” as “pointless” and as “productivity lost”. For me, I try and remember always that I work to live, not live to work.

Josh you are so right. Exercise helps burn up excess cortisol. Even short bursts of intensive exercise can help switch the body from “fight or flight” to “rest and digest”. A healthy diet is also so important. Good fuel means good function!

I agree with you too Mark. So many people use technology to “relax” now. What many people are unaware of, is the fact that TV, video games and computer use can stimulate our brains and cause significant subconscious stress. I have decided to experiment with a few technology free evenings a week and see if I notice any difference. I might write a post about it!

Thanks for your awesome tips Honeybee! I always feel super indulgent when I cook myself a special meal or give myself a face mask, body scrub or paint my nails. I really should do it more often!

Warmest wishes everyone,

Love Rhianna

Resveratrol Australia July 28, 2012 at 10:16 am

Stress is a part of life, a normal response to demands either emotional, intellectual, or physical. It can be positive if it keeps us alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger. It can be negative if it becomes chronic, increasing the risk of diseases like depression, heart disease and a variety of other problems.

Rhianna July 31, 2012 at 5:30 am

You are right Resveratrol Australia, stress can keep us alive, it is there for a reason. It’s the chronic stress I was refering to that is not a healthy part of everyday life. As a naturopath and nutritionist I see chronically stressed people on a day to day basis and this stress really is killing us.

Think about how you react on a daily basis to all the little hiccups of life, for example- you sleep past your alarm, you get stuck in traffic, you might be late for work, or have a difficult call or meeting, be rushing to meet a deadline, racing the clock to pick up the kids, worrying about what to make for dinner and then stressing about paying the bills. That kind of stress on a day to day basis is NOT healthy, nor is it normal.

What we want, is to cruise through the day, effectively dealing with every small speedbump we encounter, not letting it ruffle us, and only experiencing a big stress response in an occasional time of need such as having to swerve to avoid a car on the road.

I know this may scare a lot of people. We have some how made it “normal” to expect to live the stressed life I have described above. And that is perfectly fine, we CAN live that exact life- WITHOUT the negative effects of out of control stress.

It comes down to how your body deals with stress, not what stress you have in your life. For example, you sleep past your alarm, wake and effectively quickly get ready for work and leave without feeling panicked. There’s traffic and you don’t feel like hitting the stearing wheel and swearing, but rather sit back relaxed knowing there is nothing you can do to make things happen faster, it is not your fault. A deadline looms and instead of freaking out and feeling like your thoughts are scattered all over the room and you have a million things to do and no time to do them, you sit with focus and clarity, effectively working until the job is done. No panic, no emotional termoil, no out of control feelings.

I know which way I would prefer to live my life 🙂

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