HPA Axis & Stress Response

Here’s a random question, do you experience any of the following on a daily basis?

Chronic fatigue

Trouble sleeping

Unexplainable allergies

An onslaught of food cravings

If you said “yes” or even “Hell yes” to one or all of the above, then you very well might be experiencing the onset of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis suppression, (fancy name, I know, this condition is formerly known as adrenal fatigue).

While the question itself may be “random”—the odds of you experiencing HPA axis suppression are greater than you may realise. The simplest reason being its not on most women’s radar.

So, this begs the (not random) question…

What is HPA Axis Suppression, Exactly?

Essentially, the HPA axis is your body’s “stress system” and it controls your body’s level of cortisol (the stress hormone). The HPA Axis can also be thought of as your body’s energy regulator, (who else heard Warren G. ringing in their ears just now?) because while it primarily accounts for your stress levels, it also has a hand in all your hormones, your alertness, energy expenditure, as well as the proper functioning of your immune system.

When the HPA axis is suppressed, your body simply cannot properly regulate stress and energy levels, which can manifest into a menagerie of malevolent ailments including (but not limited to):

Extreme fatigue and lethargy

Weakened immune system, (not ideal during a pandemic)

Depression and thoughts of suicide

Heightened anxiety

You might be wondering…

What Causes HPA Axis Suppression?

Simply put, high levels of stress are the leading cause of HPA axis suppression. When your body endures stress, its natural reaction is to have the adrenal glands in your kidneys produce

cortisol. And with excessive stress comes excessive amounts of cortisol in your system.

Initially, you may experience common high cortisol symptoms such as depression, fatigue, and weight gain. However, if your cortisol levels go unchecked, either through heightened orprolonged periods, your overworked brain will slow the signal to the adrenals to produce cortisol and other hormones, suppressing the whole HPA axis (hence the name of the condition).

The utter shock of your body not having enough cortisol will begin to show—literally, with fat gain, muscle loss, and dark rings under your eyes. With that in mind, we can assume that if you’re experiencing heightened and/or prolonged periods of stress, that you’re potentially at risk for HPA axis suppression, and if you do nothing…it only gets worse.

I don’t want that to happen to you, which is why I want to share 5-Ways to Less Stress Without Lifestyle Restrictions, because life’s too short to be suffocated by stress.

1. Nutrition (this is not another “diet”)

“All things being equal, the simplest solution is always best.”—Occam’s Razor. Keeping that in mind, your daily nutrition should be focused around balancing your blood sugar.

Why? Because blood sugar can spike cortisol levels. In order to keep your blood sugar in check, eat regularly, and when you do, make sure your plate has the following at every meal:

Lean protein (fish, chicken, steak, etc.)

Healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, and butter, 

(yes, butter! Click here to read the benefits of butter in your daily nutrition)

Fiber (berries, fruits, whole grains)

And for God’s sake, reward yourself on the weekend with an occasional drink or “treat” meal. Getting rid of stress shouldn’t be, well, stressful. That being said you must maintain better choices most 85% of the time. 

2. Control caffeine

Caffeine mimics a heightened stress response. I would highly recommend removing caffeine from your diet. Drink more water. 

3. Flow states

Whatever activity gets you into a state of relaxation, do that for at least 15-minutes every single day. For some folks, it’s yoga. For others, its meditation (which I highly  recommend) or going for a walk in nature.

You know you better than anyone, so engage in your particular blissful activity to reduce stress.

4. Resistance train

Don’t worry, you will not “get bulky” and to prove it, here’s an article I wrote earlier this year. 

While any form of exercise (i.e. breaking a sweat) is a phenomenal way to reduce stress, resistance training (i.e. lifting weights and sprinting) triggers your adrenal glands to produce the exact opposite of the stressful cortisol hormone, oxytocin.

What’s oxytocin, you ask? Ever held a newborn baby or an eight-week old puppy? That’s oxytocin. It is, for lack of a better term, the “love hormone”—and who doesn’t want more of that in their life?!

A note re: resistance training. Start slow and build from there. If you bite off more than you can chew, or go into the gym without a proper planned progression, you can actually do more harm than good when it comes to lowering your stress levels.

5. Sleep

I saved this one for last because it is, without a doubt, the number one way to reduce stress.

Reason being, when we are asleep, we enter into a parasympathetic state (a fancy way of saying rest and relaxation) whereas when we’re awake during the day, we are more often than not in a sympathetic state (fight or flight).

7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep should be a priority.

A simple exercise I incorporate every night is some switch off time.

I perform the following “sleep sequence”:

Turn off all overhead lights, especially white lights and switch to lamps. Ideally red light.

Brush my teeth

Read some pages of my current book

Meditate or sit silence or listen to brainwave entrainment music

Light stretch


The whole process takes me under an hour and I’m sawing logs after my head hits the pillow.

Why? Because I am literally signalling my brain that it’s time to hit the hay.

Hopefully it goes without saying that you’ve only got one body, and it’d behoove you to take care of it.

HPA axis suppression is kind of like a runaway train. At first, it starts slow and for the most part, goes unnoticed. But, by the time it’s put on speed, it can be damn near impossible to stop, so take action now before it’s too late.

If you incorporate the five tactics above, then you will experience less stress and get your hormones back working for you rather than against you.

If you’re looking to get your stress under control fast without having to think about it, then I’d love to chat with you. 

PS.  Preparatory to creating a coaching strategy for each client I first ask them to complete the newly designed “PMF health and metabolism assessment questionnaire” – which give’s me a considerable insight into the physiological health of the client – it’s 11 pages long. 

This insight allows me to focus on creating daily and long term goals, mindset habits and creating a healthy lifestyle. We also assess metabolism and then proceed to create a training plan, diet and supplementation support. 

Please click the link below for further details and to book a consultation: 


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