Stress is a normal part of our daily lives, but stress can have negative consequences. It is the invisible cause of many of our diseases.
It can slowly weaken immune system, disrupt our endocrine system, digestions, sleep, and alter our ability to have memory and think.
Stress is also referred to as a silent killer. Center for Disease Control estimates 75% of doctor related visits are due to stress related symptoms. This is because stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, our body’s fight or flight system serves as a life saving mechanism for millions of years.
When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, our heart rate increases, pupils dilate, and the liver releases blood sugar known as glucose to help body quickly respond to danger.
The HPA axis, also known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is another component of the stress response system and works in conjunction with the sympathetic system.
When we are stressed, the HPA axis controls the stress response. When the brain registers stress, the hypothalamus is activates then triggers pituitary gland to release ACTH hormone.
The ACTH hormone travels to the adrenal glands which are located on top of our kidneys. The adrenal glands release stress hormones also known as cortisol and epinephrine which cause rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, and hyper alertness.
How our body responds to stress
The body has several natural mechanism for fighting stress.
DHEA a hormone produced by the adrenal gland counteracts the harmful effects of excess cortisol. In addition, the central nervous system releases serotonin and GABA which are released from the nerve cells in the brain to promote positive mood and balance in the body.
Occasional activation of the HPA axis, cortisol release does not hurt the body. However, chronic stress activates the HPA axis and activates the serotonin, cortisol and GABA secretion for prolonged periods of time and if left unchecked, can cause depletion of cortisol, DHEA, and neurotransmitter levels.
This can wreck havoc on our mind and body.
In today’s society, stressful life has become the norm. Stressful work situations, family problems, traffic, etc can take a toll on our stress load which can activate the hypothalamus.
In addition to the physiological activators, there are three additional factors that can affect the HPA axis.
Blood sugar imbalances, insomnia, and inflammation are stressors that activates the HPA axis to balance the body.
Stages of Stress
Stage I: Alarm
At this stage, one has high level of stress: they begin to have symptoms such as restlessness, irritation, and hyper alertness. Other symptoms include, weakened immune response, anxiety, and sleep disturbance, weight gain, or blood sugar fluctuations
Stage II: Resistance
This is when mild to moderate stress without adequate relaxation and recuperation. Hormonal imbalances, blood sugar fluctuations, weak immune responses, fatigue, or sleep difficulties often present at this stage.
It’s often at this stage that people seek help due to noticeable declining of health.
Stage III: Exhaustion
Exhaustion is a classic signs of stage 3, which includes mental and physical exhaustion. Often inflammatory conditions, chronic back pain, inflammatory bowel disease, weakened immunity and chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia, depression, and panic attacks can also occur due to depleted neurotransmitter levels following years of chronic stress.
Individuals in the exhaustion stage may find that the simplest tasks may be difficult to complete.
How to measure stress
Cortisol or DHEA levels can be measured via blood, saliva, or urine. Testing cortisol and DHEA levels can be a valuable tool for determining if your body’s HPA axis is working properly as well as to pinpoint the specific stage of your HPA axis stage of imbalance.
Stress is a key factor if left unchecked can negatively impact health.
Understanding that there are treatment approaches to address each stressors.
Are you affected by stress? Find out what you can do to reduce your stress load and take back control over your health.
We offer various classes and workshops to help you to manage your stress.
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