Chronic Stress can Create Hormonal Havoc—How to Reduce the Impact.

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Naturally Reduce Stress with these Simple Strategies

“If you really knew what was happening to you when you are stressed, you would freak out,” I once told an audience. “It’s not pretty.”

Unfortunately, chronic stress has become the societal norm, where faster seems better and we pack more obligations into an ever-growing schedule.

Among its havoc, one meta-analysis involving 300 studies found chronic stress could damage our immunity. Another found stressed-out women had significantly higher waist circumference compared to non-stressed women.

Experts have long connected stress with blood sugar and belly fat. Chronic stress raises insulin, driving relentless metabolic dysfunction that becomes weight gain, insulin resistance, and ultimately, diabetes.

Other hormones soon follow insulin’s imbalanced lead. Our adrenal glands release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that flood our system, raising our heart rate, spiking our blood pressure, making our blood more likely to clot, damaging our brain’s memory center, increasing belly fat storage and generally wreaking havoc.

Managing Stress Starts with our Diet

Rather than reduce it to calories or other numbers, we must look at food as information that controls our gene expression, hormones and metabolism.

What we eat can powerfully impact stress levels. Sugary, processed foods as well as excessive caffeine and alcohol, create a cascade effect of hormonal imbalances, which often backfire as chronic stress.

When we eat whole, real foods, we restore hormonal balance. Insulin, cortisol and other hormones stabilize. We maintain an even-keeled mindset throughout the day even when things get hectic.

Rethinking Stress

“We all have stress and strain within our lives,” writes Jennifer S. White. “All of us; it’s how we choose to deal with them that sets us apart.”

Stress is ultimately a thought or perception of a threat. In other words, we have complete control over stress, because it’s not something that happens to us but something that happens in us.

Here’s where it becomes interesting. Stressors can be real or perceived. We might imagine our spouse is angry with us. Whether or not they are, we raise stress levels. Real or imagined, when we perceive something as stressful, it creates the same response in the body.

“We can’t eliminate stress, but we can learn to weather the storms and curveballs life throws our way with grace,” writes JJ Virgin.

These 10 strategies can help us develop resiliency and reduce the impact of stress:

  1. Address the underlying causes of stress. Find the biological causes of problems with the mind including mercury toxicity, magnesium deficiencies, vitamin B12 deficiencies and gluten allergies. Changing our body can change our mind.
  2. Actively relax. Humans remain primed to always do. Even when we’re not working, our mind is on work. Active relaxation might mean deep breathing or a simple leisurely walk: something that requires us to remain mindful but promotes calmness and relieves stress.
  3. Learn new skills. Yoga, biofeedback and progressive muscle relaxation can reduce the impact of stress and allow us to feel alive.
  4. Exercise is a powerful, well-studied way to burn off stress chemicals and heal the mind. Studies show exercise works better than or equal to pharmaceutical drugs for treating depression.
  5. Utilize herbs. Adaptogenic herbs help us adapt and balance our response to stress. Good ones include ginseng, Rhodiola rosea, Siberian ginseng, cordyceps and ashwagandha.
  6. Change our beliefs. We can challenge our beliefs, attitudes and responses to common situations and reframe our point of view to reduce stress.
  7. Find a community. Consciously building our network of friends, family and community can improve stress levels and long-term health.
  8. Breathe. Most of us hold our breath often or breathe shallow, anxious breaths. Deep, slow, full breaths have a profound affect on resetting the stress response, because the relaxation nerve (or vagus nerve) goes through our diaphragm and is activated with every deep breath. We can change our stress response with even five deep breaths.
  9. Meditate. “Probably the most obvious way to de-stress your mind is meditation,” writes Lindsey Block.
  10. Sleep. Lack of sleep increases stress hormones. Making sleep a top priority will repay dividends to reduce stress levels and improve our health.


What one technique or strategy would you add to this list to manage stress levels? Share yours below or on my Facebook fan page.



Macedo DM, Diez-Garcia RW, Sweet craving and ghrelin and leptin levels in women during stress. Appetite 2014 Sep;80:264-70.

Marin H, Menza MA. Specific Treatment of Residual Fatigue in Depressed Patients. Psychiatry (Edgmont) 2004;1(2):12-18.

Segerstrom SC, Miller GE. Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry. Psychological bulletin 2004;130(4):601-630. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.130.4.601.




Author: Mark Hyman

Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: Better Works, bestpsychologydegrees.org

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About Mark Hyman

Mark Hyman, MD, believes that we all deserve a life of vitality—and that we have the potential to create it for ourselves. That’s why he is dedicated to tackling the root causes of chronic disease by harnessing the power of Functional Medicine to transform healthcare. Dr. Hyman and his team work every day to empower people, organizations, and communities to heal their bodies and minds, and improve our social and economic resilience. Dr. Hyman is a practicing family physician, a nine-time #1 New York Times bestselling author, and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in his field. He is the Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. He is also the founder and medical director of The UltraWellness Center, chairman of the board of the Institute for Functional Medicine, a medical editor of The Huffington Post, and has been a regular medical contributor on many television shows including CBS This Morning, the Today Show, CNN, The View, the Katie Couric show and The Dr. Oz Show. Dr. Hyman works with individuals and organizations, as well as policy makers and influencers. He has testified before both the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Senate Working Group on Health Care Reform on Functional Medicine. He has consulted with the Surgeon General on diabetes prevention, and participated in the 2009 White House Forum on Prevention and Wellness. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa nominated Dr. Hyman for the President’s Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health. In addition, Dr. Hyman has worked with President Clinton, presenting at the Clinton Foundation’s Health MattersAchieving Wellness in Every Generation conference and the Clinton Global Initiative, as well as with the World Economic Forum on global health issues. Dr. Hyman also works with fellow leaders in his field to help people and communities thrive—with Rick Warren, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and Dr. Daniel Amen,he created The Daniel Plan, a faith-based initiative that helped The Saddleback Church congregation collectively lose 250,000 pounds.  He is an advisor and guest co-host on The Dr. Oz Show and is on the board of Dr. Oz’s HealthCorps, which tackles the obesity epidemic by educating American students about nutrition. With Drs. Dean Ornish and Michael Roizen, Dr. Hyman crafted and helped introduce the Take Back Your Health Act of 2009 to the United States Senate to provide for reimbursement of lifestyle treatment of chronic disease. Dr. Hyman plays a substantial role in a major documentary, produced by Laurie David and Katie Couric, called Fed Up (Atlas Films, September 2014)which addresses childhood obesity. Please join him in helping us all take back our health at his website, follow him on Twitter and on Facebook and Instagram.


One Response to “Chronic Stress can Create Hormonal Havoc—How to Reduce the Impact.”

  1. Constance Woodworth says:

    What about TEACHERS?! Do some more research, our stress level is increasing!! Can someone help the people who are educating tomorrow's leaders with their stress?!

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