Do you listen when your body speaks to you? I know sometimes I don't! I can't tell you the number of times I have ignored aches and pains in my body. It is difficult to ignore an acute injury like a sprained ankle or broken bone, but signs of chronic inflammation can be subtle and easy to disregard. Chronic inflammation refers to an immune response where your body is fighting off something that could cause harm and the immune system goes into high alert. This could be germs, environmental toxins like smoke, or chemicals in your food. It can also be caused by an abundance of stress hormones like cortisol, which over time can damage cells and decrease the immune system response to pathogens.
There are often inflammatory markers in the body that doctors can test for, such as different hormone levels. But if you don't want to make a trip to the doctor, there are ways that your body often tells you that it is inflamed. Over the years I've learned that when I ignore signs from my physical body, I pay for it with even greater challenges down the road. Here are a few of the most common signs that your body may need some TLC.
Your skin breaks out. When I was in high school, I was really self-conscious about the itchy, red patches I would get around my nose and hairline. I finally went to the doctor, got diagnosed with psoriasis, and was given prescription shampoo and cream. Later as an adult, I learned that psoriasis is an autoimmune response often caused by a combination of stress, chronic inflammation, alcohol consumption, and food sensitivities. I decided to stop using the prescriptions and experiment with lifestyle and dietary changes to see if I could manage it naturally. When I started eating clean, using less harsh chemicals on my skin, and managing my stress with yoga and meditation... my skin cleared up! Psoriasis, acne, and eczema are often signs that you have inflammation.
You have irregular bowel movements. One of the ways my gut tells me when it is "off" is through my poop. Yep, talking about poop again! If you are not going AT LEAST once a day or if you have diarrhea, gas, bloating, or pain when you go... your gut might need an overhaul. Poop is your body's way of getting rid of toxins and things it doesn't need for fuel. When poop sits in your intestines and doesn't get eliminated, those chemicals that our body doesn't need irritate intestinal lining. This can cause inflammation and eventually things like IBS and colitis. The gut talks to the brain through the gut-brain axis, or GBA. If your gut is inflamed, it can cause your brain to release the stress hormone cortisol. In addition, serotonin production starts in the gut... and this is one of the main neurotransmitters that stabilizes our mood. If your gut is inflamed, it can directly impact our body's ability to make "happy hormones" leading to anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. One of the best ways to support a healthy gut is to take pre- and probiotics. The ones I use have specific strains to support the GBA and mental wellness.
Insomnia or irregular sleep patterns. When we are stressed and anxious, our nervous system doesn't care about producing sleep hormones. It cares about immediate survival. So the cortisol that is released as a stress response can cause inflammation and also disrupt the body's production of melatonin. This can cuase insomnia and disrupted sleep patterns such as waking up at 3am. Lack of sleep can then cause more inflammation in the body, leading to heightened symptoms of anxiety and depression. Then more cortisol is released to deal with the stress. It’s a vicious cycle of lack of sleep impacting mood and mood impacting your ability to rest.
Chronic headaches. Headaches are often caused by stress as well as hormone changes, dehydration, and inflammation in the sinus cavity. Inflammation from stress can cause blood vessels in the scalp and brain to tighten, because the nervous system is interacting with the muscles and heart to prepare for "fight or flight". We may also clench muscles in the jaw and face, increasing our chance of getting a headache. Facial massage can increase bloodflow and stimulate sinus drainage, curing and preventing headaches from stress. Headaches are one of the main ways you can tell if you have inflammation in the body... if you’re having them regularly, it may be time to take a look at foods and stressors in your life!
Brain fog. Confusion, inability to focus, forgetting words or tasks, disorganization, and poor memory are all symptoms of brain fog. I notice that stress and poor diet go hand-in-hand with my inability to think clearly... and is yet another way that my body lets me know it is time to make a change. When the immune system and nervous system are activated, rational thought goes down. After all, the brain doesn't care what x + y equals when there is a saber tooth tiger getting ready to attack! Green tea is a great drink for combatting brain fog. The L-theanine in green tea supports production of GABA in the brain and combats the jittery feeling some people experience with caffeine.
If you are interested in taking the next steps to decreasing inflammation in the body, check out the B3 Program, where we focus on getting your Brain, Body, and Breath aligned to decrease stress and anxiety holistically!