Resilience in Times of Stress

Building Resilience

Cortisol, our primary stress hormone is actually really important and under normal circumstances is a great thing to have working well; it’s what gets us out of bed in the morning and levels should decrease as the day goes on. It influences metabolism, thyroid, and our immune system, and will exist in higher quantities when we’re stressed. It promotes fat storage particularly around the midriff, additionally driving cravings for more fats and sweet foods, so that energy is readily available to fight or do a runner in the event of danger… but our brain isn’t that great at differentiating between actual danger and life’s everyday feeling of being under the pump. If you’re experiencing an afternoon slump, craving biscuits and cakes, reaching for the caffeine or a sugar pick me up, or perhaps you’re tired but wired at bedtime? chances are you have cortisol out of whack, and consuming these types of foods will have a whole ripple effect which isn’t going to end well (see a previous post on insulin resistance here).

So take a really good look and consider; Do your current stress responses serve you well? Is there a chance to stop and explore what works? Or are you in a mode of using stress management which isn’t optimal? Wine time, coffee, online shopping, reaching for the quick and easy (but potentially less nutritious) biscuits and snacks, mindlessly watching TV, smoking… these can be used to manage stress, but they’re not great long term options, let’s be honest.

To really build resilience, we need to think of things which are nurturing and nourishing for our body and mind. Animal products can be considered inflammatory and negatively affect the thyroid, further increasing that darn cortisol level, so opting for more plant based nutrition may improve things if you’re in full stress mode. Eating little and often and consuming protein and good fats at each meal, can balance blood sugar, whilst opting for whole grains steadies the release of energy into the blood stream, improving cortisol levels. Evidence also suggests cutting out triggers which can influence the experience of stress and symptoms; Think caffeine, sugar, alcohol, dairy, over-exercising. Of course there’s also outdoor space and keeping movement simple which we’ve talked about previously. Journalling and practicing gratitude…there’s actually quite a lot that can help.

By paying attention to what stresses you and how you respond, you can turn things around. Our bodies are amazing things and nipped in the bud, we can influence our cortisol levels and overall health. Bring consciousness and commitment to do better, but remember you’re human,. Consistency, not perfection, is key, and you can only start where you’re at; changes aren’t going to occur overnight. It takes on average 10-12 weeks to build up self care and resilience. It takes practice,– the gym doesn’t build muscles overnight and your brain is no different, so being patient is going to help.


When you’re under stress, it’s really easy to feel that life is just getting harder and the joy is starting to wane. Physically, mentally and emotionally, stress has vast repercussions; I know a thing or two about this having experienced a terribly stressful few years as the owner of a moderately sized Physio practice and gym in New Zealand, with a legal case fluttering along in the background and a few other things to throw in the mix like my first pregnancy, my Mum being diagnosed with breast cancer… well, you get the idea! (all is well now on all fronts by the way!)

Modern life generally results in us all living in a state of chronic overwhelm and permanent excitability. This differs to acute stress in terms of what happens within our bodies, and we weren’t really meant to work this way evolutionary wise. How we respond to life stressors is going to affect our body systems, and depending how stressful life is for you, you’re going to experience hormonal changes which will affect how well you actually feel.

I’ve said it many times……Stress is whatever you say it is. What one person finds stressful, another may find stimulating. ‘Stressors’ per se aren’t an issue; It’s how we respond to them that can have less desirable effects on our overall health.