So what even is allostatic load?
Allostatic load is really another word for stress, but if I say stress most people will just hear “Blah blah stress, same ol’ stress”.
Anyway, physiologically it refers to the chemical messengers that circulate at times of stress. These chemicals are designed to ‘come out’ at acute times of stress, like when you’re being chased by a wild animal that wants to eat you, rather than to be circulating all the time because we are overworked, over-exercised, over-alcohol’d, over-socialised, under-relationship’d, over-worried-and-anxious, under-slept, under-nourished and so on.
Conversely, things like LACK of exercise can also exacerbate the problem because the body sees that as a state of sub-optimal existence!
The stress chemicals include adrenalin, cortisol and norepinephrine which the body deploys to manage and control the stress response. But when they’re circulating all the time, as in cases of chronic stress, they overload the body and cause substantial inflammation and damage giving rise to disease, sometimes life threatening.
By the way ‘chronic’ in this case means constant and prolonged, you may not even register it, it’s just a way of life, that jangly feeling a lot of people just live with day to day. That overload is referred to as allostatic load/overload.
I see it in a lot of clients, especially sporty types. They’ll get up at the crack of dawn to train, commute a fair distance to work, work at a high powered job, have a lunchtime meeting, train again after work, go to bed late, race at weekends or just get up early to do another manic training session. They might even throw marriages and children into the mix. What happens eventually? Burnout or illness. It’s not sustainable or sensible.
Some effects of stress and allostatic load
- Shrinkage of brain neurons leading to worsened memory and a bigger sense of fear.
- Suppressed immunity, more likely to catch lurgies.
- Autoimmune disorders such as lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, MS, type 1 diabetes, Graves disease, vasculitis (damage to blood vessels).
- Raised blood pressure and associated increased risk of stroke and atherosclerosis.
- Altered appetite – often increased, or cravings for sweet food and carbs. In extreme cases the appetite may even shutdown but that’s more with acute stress.
- Lack of periods (the body is stressed, not an ideal situation to make a baby so the body alters the hormone set up)
- Infertility. See above.
- Increased abdominal fat (visceral).
- Decreased muscle tone in the bowel.
- Depression and mood alteration.
- And a lot more besides.
What to do?
We often think life has to be like this, but it doesn’t. We often have a choice but we live life as we do because we feel it’s expected or it’s the norm or it boosts self-esteem. Constantly striving for bigger, better, further, faster. But where does it really get us? It gets us sick as dogs, and essentially unsatisfied.
At Nuush, on all of our plans, we encourage soft lifestyle changes – more and better sleep, relaxation, time in nature, improved connection with people around you – and in fact we provide the nurturing and supportive community of The Hive to that end. Becoming a client is you taking action.
But it’s so easy to read what to do without doing it.
The things you can do to reduce your allostatic overload are very simple:
- Eat well.
- Cut alcohol to a minimum.
- Don’t smoke.
- Be active, but not overactive.
- Work your paid hours.
- Be satisfied with what you have.
- Go to bed earlier, and sleep more.
- Share mealtimes around the table.
- Make time for others and allow yourself to be supported.
- Generally talk to people more – connect.
- Have significant time away from screens.
- Spend time in natural light every day.
- Spend time in nature.
- Spend time at simple lazy leisure.
- Know that you are enough.