We explain the signs of stress
Seeing the shrink
You hit the bar-bells to workout your work issues, but if you’re stressed at the gym your body’s bulk-up process is stuck in reverse. Cortisol stimulates the release of somatostatin, which blocks your body’s growth hormone (GH). Studies in Endocrine Reviews confirm low GH levels lower your energy, strength and ability to exercise. Plus, research in the American Journal of Human Biology reported that cortisol also triggers your body to turn muscle protein into glucose for energy. That means less strength and less muscle. And with that beach holiday on the horizon, that is something to be stressed about.
Sex drive nose-dive
The boardroom can take its toll in the bedroom with a dose of chemical non-romance. Stress hormones have the same building blocks as sex hormones, “so if your body is churning out heaps of the stress variety, your sex hormones suffer, meaning lack of libido and a potential bedroom flop,” says stress counseling specialist Dr Pauline Harding from the University of Illinois.
Not sleeping on it
If your mattress is like quicksand in the mornings but you lay there worried and wired at night, your circadian rhythm – a 24-hour cycle controlling cortisol release – could be out of whack. The nifty circadian clock should keep your cortisol levels highest in the morning and gradually drop them through the day, but long-term stress turns it from a Swiss timepiece into a black market knock-off. Cortisol levels get out of sync and you’re left “tired but wired”. The white coat brigade at Pennsylvania State University’s Sleep Research Centre found a clear link between insomnia and cortisol. And even if you do somehow manage to drop off (try Graham Poll’s autobiography…) University of Chicago studies found high cortisol levels disrupt your regenerative rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This saps energy and alertness and leads to depression and increased heart disease risk in the long term.
Unless you’re an endocrinologist or a truly top level hypochondriac, you probably don’t give much thought to your thyroid. Health poster boys like the heart and the liver hog the limelight, but like an anatomical holding midfield player, the thyroid does a crucial job driving your metabolism. And cortisol can wreak havoc in the metabolic engine room. “Cortisol limits the release of the hormone that tells the thyroid to do its job,” says Dr Barry Durrant-Peatfield, author of The Great Thyroid Scandal (Hammersmith Press). And that can have a huge knock on effect on your body, causing fatigue, loss of sex drive, depression and weight gain.
Besides slowing your metabolic engine and upping your intake of gut-expanding “relaxation juice”, stress can advance directly to your gut. Studies in Obesity Review showed cortisol causes a redistribution of body fat from your extremities to your trunk and your face. Like beer, but less fun.
Forget the dry cleaning? Again? Research by Professor Robert Sapolsky at Stanford University found prolonged exposure to cortisol damages the part of your brain crucial for memory. Though strangely you never seem to forget those deadlines…