How Stress Affects Your Health

September 08, 2009 By: Rachelle Goering Category: Mind Body Spirit

Don’t Worry, Be Happy:  How Stress Affects Your Health

More than ever our bodies and our minds are constantly bombarded with stressful situations. Stress levels can vary greatly but extreme stress causes serious damage to our bodies including our brains. Prolonged stress is the most concerning because the longer the body and its organs are exposed to the chemicals released under stress, the greater the damage to the body. Extreme stress causes a condition known as adrenal burnout or hypoadrenalism.

Your adrenal glands are two small glands located on the kidneys. They secrete a number of different hormones, the most common are adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones give your body a surge of energy to help you respond properly to stress–the “fight or flight” response. These reactions were important for people who lived during more strenuous times fleeing from potentially dangerous situations. When the danger subsided, they rested and allowed their bodies (and adrenals) to recover. When you are constantly under stress, there isn’t anytime for the body to recover and heal. The result is overworked and undernourished adrenals that eventually burnout.

Adrenal fatigue is one of the most common maladies I treat in my practice. I tell my patients it’s like driving a car with the engine revved up and not stopping to let it idle or get a tune up. Eventually, no matter how good the engine once was, it is going to give out. That is exactly what happens to your body.

Adrenal glands

Signs of adrenal burnout include:

  • fatigue that can become chronic fatigue
  • accelerated aging
  • weight gain
  • insomnia
  • low blood sugar or high blood sugar
  • irritability
  • inability to lose weight
  • depression
  • excessive worry
  • acne

We now know that stress affects the brain, too, creating a greater chance of developing dementia due to damage of the hippocampus from chronic exposure to high levels of cortisol.

Good News

There is good news, though, to this rather dismal picture I just painted for you. The adrenals and the rest of your body can recover from the effects of stress. It requires you to remove as much stress from your life as possible
and learn to respond differently to the remaining stress. It is unrealistic to think that we can remove all stressful situations from our life. In fact, there is such a thing as “healthy” stress.

Proper treatment requires a conscious lifestyle change. It means you can’t keep on doing what you have been doing and expect that your body will eventually adapt. Feeling poorly due to adrenal fatigue is a “good” thing because it causes you to stop what you are doing and get help! People who do not pay attention to their bodies’ warning signs can get very, very sick and not have a chance to heal.

Reclaiming your Health and Vitality

One of the most powerful tools to healing your adrenals is to integrate a meditation practice into your daily life. Meditation allows you to slow down and become calm and peaceful. Your adrenal glands then produce less cortisol so your body can begin to repair and re-balance itself. Every organ and system in your body benefits–you become clearer and more creative. Your moods elevate and depression can disappear. You may even find that you can give up some of the bad habits you took up as a result of your stress like drinking too much alcohol or caffeine, eating too much sugar or smoking. The aging cycle is diminished and your brain and mind is sharper.


Other ways to reduce stress is through exercise that you enjoy. Yoga may work well for some, while others can benefit from golf or hiking or jogging or gardening. Excessive exercise can do more harm than good, so stay away from boot camps and marathons!

Emotional and Spiritual Health

When you feel good about yourself, your health improves. When we maintain healthy relationships with our loved ones and surround ourselves with a supportive and nurturing community, our stress levels normalize and our bodies can be restored to balance. Body and mind are intimately connected–achieving emotional and spiritual health will directly affect your physical health and well-being.

Nutrition and Supplements

I always customize a food and supplementation plan for my patients who are healing from stress and adrenal burnout. I will list a few general guidelines that apply to anyone with this condition. Initially, avoid soy, gluten and pasteurized dairy and all processed foods. These are stressors that can raise cortisol levels and exacerbate symptoms. Focus on a variety of lean proteins, organic vegetables and fruits, gluten free grains and don’t forget the fats. Healthy fats are very important and often overlooked–choose coconut, olive and ghee when cooking.

Supplements are an essential part your healing program. I suggest working with a qualified health practitioner who can recommend a carefully designed program just for you. I treat my patients with different supplements depending on the severity of their burnout. For overall adrenal support, remember that adrenals like minerals, B-vitamins and omega oils. These are excellent additions to anyone’s daily regimen regardless of the condition of your adrenals.

Sleep and Rest

Getting adequate sleep is crucial for physical repair and regeneration. Adrenals need at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night to heal.

Well, friends, this turned out to be much longer than I expected! I hope you find it helpful and will do whatever it takes to nourish your body and soul and lower your stress. You will feel more joyous, experience more energy and have a healthier outlook on life when balance is restored.

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2 Comments to “How Stress Affects Your Health”

  1. Hi Rachael
    Thank you so much for this. I have been so ill for so many years and I have known it has been severe and prolonged stress that I just couldnt get any help or support for (the very people professing to love me cause me the most pain) Eventually I started to have terrible nerve pain from groin to ankle in my left leg, shooting electric shock type pains in my head and chest and my left foot is so painful it is hard to walk. I have had dreadful unusual headaches with a burning sensation and am irritable and angry and feel so misunderstood. It doesnt help when the doctor treats me as though I am inventing these symptoms.It makes me feel helpless which makes my condition worse. I know I can’t go any further down this road of pain and ill health and that I must learn new ways to cope and heal my body and mind. I feel as though I have just stumbled across some help.I am sorry if this is full of mistakes in spelling etc. but I have also started to forget my words and spelling (something I have alays been very good at) and something I believe is happening because of all the stress. Gwen

    • Rachelle Goering says:

      Dear Gwen:

      Thank you for sharing your story. Know that you are not along and that help for a complete recovery is available to you. If there is anything I can do to help you find a practitioner who practices functional medicine–treating the whole person–please let me know. Wishing you the best on your journey to health and vitality.



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