Counteracting the Effects of Chronic Stress
Ask almost anybody about their stress level and you're bound to hear that it's high (unless you tend to surround yourself with Type B, laid-back folks, like Californian surfers). Enduring a high level of stress is almost a badge of honor these days; if you don't claim to be under extreme stress, then you might feel that others will view you as somewhat of a slacker.
Okay, so let's accept the fact that most of us have plenty of stress to deal with. Is this necessarily a bad thing? No, because some people can handle a great deal of stress without succumbing to any of its detrimental health effects—at least for a period of time. Some people even claim to thrive on stress, when we know that what they really thrive on is the jolt of adrenaline and endorphins stressful situations cause their bodies to produce. Unfortunately, while adrenaline and endorphins will certainly pump us up with energy and good feelings (at least for a few minutes), the resulting cortisol secretion can get us into health trouble over the long term.
But how do you know if all this applies to you? How do you know where you stand on the stress spectrum? How do you know if you're at risk for all the nasty health problems outlined in the preceding chapters? Simple. Refer back to the results of your Type C Self-Test, located in the Introduction. (If you haven't yet taken the test, totaled your results, and discovered your Type C index, now is a good time to take a few minutes and do so.) Chances are, you're a Stressed Jess. That means everything in this book—from the warnings about the effects of excessive stress and increased cortisol levels, to the advice about how you can counteract those effects—applies to you.
But even if you're not always a Stressed Jess, there are almost certainly times when a Strained Jane or a Relaxed Jack could use a helping hand with stress management. Whether you're a hard-charging Type A go-getter or a more relaxed, roll-with-the-punches Type B, we are all periodically at risk for slipping into the Type C lifestyle (characterized by elevated cortisol levels). For the Janes and Jacks out there, this book can be used as an a la carte resource: Try a bit of this and a little of that to see which cortisol-control strategies work most effectively for your particular situation.
Adrenal Stress Testing Kits
Should you run out and purchase one of those at-home kits that measure cortisol levels in saliva or urine? Probably not. Although quite a cottage industry has sprung up to sell you home hormone-testing kits, the validity and utility of such kits are limited—and the same goes for the more sophisticated hormone analysis that can be ordered by your doctor. Why? The main reason these tests are unnecessary for most people is because levels of cortisol, DHEA, testosterone, and related hormones fluctuate normally throughout the day and can change at a moment's notice. This means that the very act of taking the test is likely to change the results, making them virtually useless unless administered in just the right way, which is very difficult even under controlled laboratory conditions.
We perform measurements of both cortisol and testosterone in our nutrition clinic as part of our SENSE Lifestyle Program, but we do this in a research setting to quantify the magnitude of hormone control across groups of participants—not to classify them as having "high" or "low" levels of a particular hormone. In most cases, you'll already know whether you're experiencing heightened stress. By answering the questions in the Type C Self-Test (which we also use in our studies of the SENSE program), you can get a very good idea of how much stress you're exposed to, how you tend to deal with that stress, and what level of risk that stress may pose for your long-term health. (You'll also save yourself the $100 to $400 that is typically charged for the mail-order adrenal stress tests.)