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Is Stress Causing Your Anxiety and Insomnia?

Carrie Jones, ND, MPH

It probably comes as no surprise to learn that most people in the world are feeling increased stress or are “stressed out.” The American Psychological Association reports the top three most reported reasons in America are money, work and family responsibilities (2015). There are other stressors, of course, that many do not realize such as dehydration, blood sugar problems, and toxin exposure. Regardless of the cause, the hormones cortisol and adrenaline (epinephrine) made in the adrenal glands at the direction of the brain are responsible for handling stress however they can cause a number of side effects.

People who are experiencing short-term or long-term “fight or flight” states tend to have higher levels of cortisol and adrenaline circulating in their system. The job of these hormones is to help the body prepare to run, attack, and protect itself. Unfortunately, stress in many advanced countries has little to do with running and more to do with worrying about bills, relationships, or job dissatisfaction. Humans tend to associate “stress” with mental/emotional situations when it can be physical as well. Someone experiencing uncontrolled autoimmune symptoms or pain is experiencing stress just as much as someone who has skipped lunch causing a blood sugar crash or who have come in contact with pesticides.
When cortisol and adrenaline rise, the body gears up resulting in symptoms such as anxiety and insomnia. Who has time to sleep when adrenaline is running rampant? The same goes for feeling calm and centered. Instead, people tend to feel agitated, nervous, worrisome, fretful, and amped up. Many do not realize it is the stress in and around their life or body that is causing these symptoms.
What can help? Of course, identifying the causes can be a massive help to improving sleep habits and mood. Try to recognize triggers such as skipping meals, certain foods, dehydration, personal relationships, too much caffeine or other stimulants, job-related issues, addictions such as alcohol or video games, and chemicals (including household cleaners and skincare). Over time it can all build up and make things much worse.
Next, try some relaxing activities such as light reading, taking a bath, meditation, breathing, journaling, listening to calming music, drinking calming tea, and stretching. Consider supplements known to help reduce cortisol and adrenaline such as chamomile, skullcap, magnolia, ashwagandha, holy basil, passionflower, lavender, lemon balm, 5-HTP (be careful if on an antidepressant medication), and L-theanine. Do not drink caffeine (or other stimulants) or alcohol in the evening and be cautious with sugar consumption as this can stimulate both cortisol and adrenaline. Lastly, avoid electronics before bed (such as phones) as the blue light they emit can suppress melatonin and throw off the natural circadian rhythm. Even just one night of insomnia can significantly increase anxiety the next day. 

References:
2015 Stress in America. (2015). The American Psychological Association. Retrieved on November 18, 2017 from   http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2015/snapshot.aspx

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