Stress recovery balance is often overlooked in metabolic health. Patients complaining of anxiety or depression or excess stress are often prescribed psychotropic medications to deal with their conditions. This does nothing to address the root cause and may contribute to the metabolic decline as root causes are ignored.
Exposure to chronic stress without appropriately balancing this stress with rest and recovery leads to unhealthy metabolic responses. While acute stress is a survival mechanism chronic stress is unhealthy. The stress response releases things like cortisol and norepinephrine throughout the sympathetic nervous system. Acutely, this response can be used by our energy system to release glucose and free-fatty acids. This energy can be used during the flight or fight response or other times such as exercise. On the other hand, exposure to chronically high levels of stress can cause the excessive release of neuropeptide Y (NPY). NPY blocks the receptor of norepinephrine and will contribute to lipid storage, increased fat accumulation and angiogenesis. Chronic exposure to cortisol breaks down cells and effects brain health. These responses can also have negative epi-genetic ramifications.
In practice, we have seen patients initially lose weight and improve their health by making changes to only diet and exercise. Then at some point their progress comes to a complete stall. Many times, further investigation into their stress/recovery balance has shown that chronically stressed patients need to improve this balance if progress towards their health goals is to be achieved.
While stress is difficult to avoid, realizing rest and recovery is needed to balance stress is an important first step in treating an unhealthy stress/recovery balance. Further steps in treating an unhealthy stress/recovery balance are to identify causes of stress and to develop mechanisms that can be effective at increasing the rest/recovery response. This may take some trial and error and may involve looking at sleep quality and quantity.
Fitness can be defined as resistance to physical stress but data shows fitness also helps make us resistance to other stressors. By addressing all aspects of lifestyle, including diet, fitness, habits, sleep, and stress we can successfully help patients balance their stress with a healthy level of rest and recovery. Here at Restore Medical Fitness we use a lifestyle assessment tool to address the stress/rest balance. Patients wear a wrist band that continually monitors heart rate, heart rate variability* and other bio-markers that help us identify periods of stress, versus periods of rest as well as quality of sleep and time spent exercising. These bio-markers allow us to having meaningful conversations with patients about time period or triggers of stress and explore different mechanisms to increase rest such as meditation, mindfulness, exercise, prayer, listening to music and many others. By using this tool we are capable of objectively measuring and counseling patients on how to affect this sympathetic/parasympathetic balance to their benefit.
*Heart rate variability is used to measure the sympathetic versus parasympathetic dominance of the patients in real time.