VIDEO NOTES: Stress, Cortisol and (not) running from a lion

Stress. We all experience it, at least to some extent. Some of us more than others. And we hear “stress is the root of disease”, “reduce stress for health!” and many of us just roll our eyes- because what is life as a mama without stress??

But here’s the deal, mama. STRESS might be the reason you feel like you’re doing everything right and still have zero energy.

STRESS might be the reason you feel like you still have stubborn weight hanging on (now, what weight you’re supposed to be is up to your body, not you).

STRESS might be the reason you are STILL not sleeping at night (even though you’re exhausted). STRESS might be the reason you feel like you are never getting ahead in your health goals.

Stress has MASSIVE implications on our health and wellbeing. But often, it’s unavoidable. So how do you combat the stress to live YOUR healthiest mama life?

Watch this month's video lesson (see all videos in the video lesson section):

Notes: (Scroll down for the 'How to Combat it' section)

Stress, defined:

The body’s response to changes that create taxing demands, whether it be mental or physical.

Stress is not always bad.

There are two types of stressors: EUStress and DIStress.

EUStress: positive stress

  • Motivates, focuses energy.

  • Typically short-term.

  • Is perceived as within our coping abilities.

  • Feels exciting.

  • Improves performance

Examples: The adrenaline rush we get before a big presentation, or at the end of a race. The acute stress exercise puts on our bodies. Starting a new job, getting married, having a new baby or buying a home. It’s stress- but it’s positive, and we feel like we can cope with it (most of the time). When these positive stressors turn negative, it turns into DISTRESS.

DIStress: negative stress

  • Causes anxiety or concern.

  • Can be short- or long-term.

  • Is perceived as outside of our coping abilities.

  • Feels unpleasant.

  • Decreases performance.

  • Can lead to mental and physical problems.

Examples: Newborn life turns into postpartum depression. When our exercise routine turns obsessive. When we lose a loved one. Injury or illness, yourself or someone close to you. Marriage problems, money problems, legal problems, or physical problems like sleep problems or undereating.

Stress can be ACUTE or CHRONIC. Acute stress is not typically bad because it doesn’t have time to do the long-term damage chronic stress does. However, episodic acute stress can be. This is when we are constantly ‘on edge’, moving from stressor to stressor. CHRONIC stress is what is MOST harmful, especially when it is DISTRESS or what feels like Eustress turns chronic, becoming DISTRESS.

What happens when we’re stressed:

When our bodies perceive a threat, of any sort, whether it be physical or mental, it triggers a cascade response in our body, led by hormones- which are chemical messengers in our body. When many of us think of hormones, we think of female and male hormones, but hormones dictate responses throughout our body.

You’ve all felt the effect of an acute stress situation. Sweaty palms, pounding heart, tense muscles. This combination of reactions is called the Fight or Flight response. I’m sure you’ve heard of this in high school biology.

It is, quite literally, a survival mechanism.

Our bodies were created thousands of years ago without the same protection we have today of a roof over our heads, cars to get places and most dangerous animals around us live behind the cages of a zoo.

But your body still LITERALLY feels like it’s running from a lion.

So happens is our body prepares for a fight, even if there is no true danger.

What it means for our bodies and our weight:

Chronic low level stress keeps the HPA axis activated, which can contribute to long term disease.

Chronic surges of epinephrine puts pressure on the blood vessels and arteries, increasing blood pressure and increasing our risk for heart disease and stroke.

Elevated cortisol levels produce glucose, and over the long term consistently produces glucose, leading to increased blood sugar levels, and in the short term, cortisol inhibits insulin, because our bodies need to use that blood sugar! So it keeps our blood sugar chronically elevated. But if that stress response never goes down, whenever blood sugar is increased- the more insulin we need to produce and secrete to bring our sugar down because it’s not used to using it. Our body begins to fight against itself, cortisol → blood sugar → insulin and our bodies can, over time, become less sensitive to insulin, so we need more and more to keep our blood sugar levels from reaching dangerous levels. Problem here is that insulin is a storage hormone, and whatever glucose we don’t need in the liver and muscles gets turned into body fat. There is more biochemistry to this- but this is at the basic level. This is one of the reason women come to me and tell me ‘I’m doing everything right and still not losing weight!’ If your body is constantly stressed, it is not going to release weight.

On the flip side, it also increases APPETITE, because obviously- our bodies need more energy, we are constantly running from a lion!! Studies have demonstrated a direct association between cortisol levels and calorie intake in populations of women. Cortisol may directly influence appetite and cravings by binding to hypothalamus receptors in the brain.

Cortisol also indirectly influences appetite by modulating other hormones and stress responsive factors known to stimulate appetite.

This is one of the reasons you might feel more hungry after a bad night of sleep. Cortisol perceives stress and your body is responding.

Cortisol is a normal hormone that is released on a daily basis. It has a circadian rhythm-- It actually works opposite melatonin, that hormone that is released to help you sleep. Except cortisol is supposed to be higher in the am -- helps to wake us up and releases glucose to get us going, and lower at night so melatonin can work to help us sleep. When our cortisol levels are consistently off, we have trouble settling down at night and this contributes to even more problems associated with lack of sleep.

Lastly, chronically high cortisol levels-- and glucose levels-- contribute to inflammation in the body.

How to combat it:

1. Get that lion out of your home-- aka, your hypothalamus!

2. Balance your blood sugar

3. Focus on anti-inflammatory foods

4. Support your adrenals

1. Carve out time to start to reduce stress in simple ways.


  • Breathing

  • Prayer

  • Meditation

  • Yoga class/Other forms of stretching and/or light movement

  • Journaling

  • Time to yourself (bath, coffee date with yourself)

  • Create something

  • Unplug

  • Massage

  • Walking

  • Seeing a counselor

2. Balance your blood sugar.

See the audio lesson on this one. Balancing your blood sugar is one of the most powerful things you can do for your overall health. The basics: make sure every carb is paired with a protein and/or fat. Increase fiber when you can.

3. Focus on adding in more anti-inflammatory foods (remember, adding rather than subtracting creates healthy habits)


  • dark leafy greens

  • berries

  • ginger

  • garlic, nuts + seeds

  • bone broth

  • fish and fish oil

  • turmeric (curcumin)

  • green tea (l-theanine in green tea is especially helpful in reducing stress and anxiety)

  • focus on good quality, organic, whole foods when you can- you don’t want to stress your body out more with chemicals, hormones + antibiotics, etc.

4. Support your adrenals with practices + supplements:

1) Reduce caffeine (especially after noon)

2) Prioritize sleep

3) Move gently

4) Add in adrenal boosting supplements as needed:

  • Magnesium (pumpkin and sunflower seeds, cacao)

  • Vitamin C

  • Sea Salt

  • Adaptogens- especially Rhodiola, Ashwaganda, and Maca (see my post on Adaptogens)

  • Reishi mushroom : compound, phytochemical called adenosine relaxes skeletal muscles + calms the central nervous system (also shown to stabilize blood sugar!)

  • Passionflower

  • Lavender, Frankincense and Magnolia essential oils

Remember: stress can be combatted- but don't stress about it! Start with one SIMPLE practice at a time to combat stress for a more superpowered mama life.

© 2019 by Kristin Dovbniak for The Supermama Society

Disclaimer: The information contained on this website is for information and encouragement only and is not to be construed as a replacement for medical advice or treatment.