Stress Awareness Month

Stress Awareness Month has been held every April since 1992 to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic. According to the Mental Health Foundation in 2021 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

Over this coming month, SheThrive will be talking all things stress from what it is, how it effects our health biologically and psychologically, how to reduce the stress response and build resistance. This week, I want to share my personal journey with stress and how it affected so much more than just feeling frazzled to bring to life how stress can affect each one of us.

Your body is designed to handle a great deal. Humans are primed to be resilient and to bounce back after adversity. Yet there is only so much your body can take before it starts to falter – or worse.

That is known as ‘adrenal dysregulation’ or ‘HPA axis dysfunction’. The latter stands for hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis dysfunction, the current term for what we used to referred to as ‘adrenal fatigue’.

You have two separate protective systems to ensure your survival: the stress response and the immune system.

The stress response – your fight-or-flight mechanism – is designed to protect you against external dangers. It is governed by the HPA Axis. The HPA axis is activated only when you’re under threat. When there is no danger, it is inactive.

While the HPA axis is activated, stress hormones are produced all the time. However, cell growth requires that the stress response is switched off. Constant cell growth is crucial because, inside our body, cells reach the end of their life all the time and must be replaced. Within a cell community of 50 trillion cells, each cell has a job to do, and we need them to renew.

The other protective system, the immune system, protects us by fighting outside invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. The stress hormones released by the HPA axis block the immune system.

Knowing this, it is easy to see how something that seems minor at first glance – stress – could be messing with your health in different ways and different areas of your body.

My own personal experience with stress is a story I tell often to clients to bring to life how what we describe as typical ‘life stress’ can be the catalyst to a host of symptoms that are difficult to identify as probable cause.

My Story

In my late 20’s, I began suffering with symptoms that were difficult to pinpoint such as headaches, neck stiffness, consistent boats of tonsilitis, reduction in energy, digestive issues such as bloating and constipation and bouts of insomnia. These symptoms developed over several years and were intermittent. When visiting the doctor over a 2 year period, I would relay my symptoms and the usual standard blood tests were ran only to be told that my bloods were fine and that is typical for working mums to feel tired – helpful! Looking back the signs were there but I was just too damn busy to listen. With a baby and a toddler to look after, working 4 days a week as an Operational Manager and completing my 4-year diploma in Nutritional Therapy at weekends and evenings, it’s easy to see why my health started to deteriorate juggling so many plates. After 2 years of complaining to my GP of my symptoms, countless MRI scans, a hospital visit with a racing heart hooked up to machines for the day, every blood test the NHS has to offer and feeling like I was going insane or seriously ill without a cure, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME.

NICE guideline diagnosis of ME/CFS should be based on the presence of four core symptoms: debilitating fatigue, post-exertional malaise, cognitive dysfunction, and unrefreshing sleep. With no specific test for ME/CFS, the above set of symptoms for more than 6 months is the basis for diagnosis. I was crushed, scared, and felt very alone with more unanswered questions than answers. There is no known cure for ME/CFS and to be given a diagnosis of a chronic illness with no known cure feels like your world is caving in.

With two young children to look after and a new career to start as a Nutritional Therapist and Wellbeing Coach, giving up and giving in was not an option. I began to research my symptoms and came across HPA dysregulation and how our inbuilt responses to stress work in terms of cortisol production. During times of stress, your body releases cortisol so you stay on high alert and function. When the period of stress is over, cortisol should reduce to its usual rhythm and back into a restful state. When we are under periods of stress that continues for longer timeframes, our stress response adapts flooding your body with cortisol for longer periods of time. It’s an adaptive mechanism so it can continue to flood the body with cortisol even on non-stressful days as it perceives danger in all areas.

Newly qualified in Nutritional Therapy, I has access to functional testing that allowed me to review how my body was responding to stress and looking at cortisol production throughout the day. That test alone was the turning point as the results were able to show that my body was in a chronic state of stress and producing double the amount of cortisol at varies parts of the day than it should be creating chronic inflammation, effecting my immune system, and creating unwanted symptoms.

The signs of HPA axis dysregulation are widespread and may include any of the following:

  • Allergies
  • Anxiety
  • Apathy
  • Bone Loss
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Cold
  • Craving Salty Foods
  • Decreased Immunity (frequent bouts of illness)
  • Depression
  • Early onset perimenopause/menopause
  • Fatigue (especially in the morning or after a stressful event)
  • Hot Flushes
  • Low Blood Pressure
  • Memory Loss
  • Muscle Wasting
  • Panic Attacks
  • Poor Concentration
  • Sleep Disturbances (insomnia/waking up early hours)
  • Weight gain around midsection

So, with all this said and done, you can see why stress can trigger so many debilitating health issues and symptoms and why we are dedicating April’s updates to tackling symptoms, supporting your adrenals and your stress response and tips on keeping your adrenals nourished and leaving you energetic and thriving! Stay tuned for next week’s addition for supportive tips to beat burn out.

Want to chat?  

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms and wish to discuss these further, then feel free book in for a complimentary call with me to discuss further.

Spring 21 Day Reset – Online Programme: Start date 16th April.

There are still a few spaces for my online programme due to start on 16th April. If you are looking to improve your health, increase energy, loss some weight and regain better eating habits then this is exactly what you need!.  Sign up details below.

Our next challenge starts on Tuesday 16th April – Monday 6th May. If you would like more information, please contact me at or book directly on the below link. You will receive a welcome email the weekend before start date providing access to our exclusive Facebook group and recipe plan so you can get prepped and ready for start date. Look forward to seeing you there and supporting you on your health journey.