Stress plays a huge role in the every day lives of most people, but very few of us really understand how it works, or how it effects us on a day to day basis.
“Stress” Defined: The “neuroscientific” definition of Stress: “Conditions where an environmental demand exceeds the natural regulatory capacity of an organism, in particular situations that include unpredictability and unaccountability”
The physiological process of emotional stress affects all aspects of the Autonomic Nervous System. What does this really mean? Well stress unbalances the Sympathetic Nervous System and the Parasympathetic Nervous System. Lets have a look at what these do:
The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSN) is the state you need to be in, in order to heal. It is responsible for keeping you calm, promotes relaxation and helps keep your emotions balanced and hopefully in harmony with the world around you.
Your Sympathetic Nervous System is all about stimulating a response to stress. It sends signals to release glucose and fatty acids in order to support a sudden rise in energy in order for you to cope with the emergency. However, there is a side affect in order to achieve this – it diverts energy away from your immune system and digestion areas, as these are not usually required when your house is on fire!
To really get to grips with Stress we have to start at the beginning. Stress occurs because of a “thought” a signal is sent to the brain, which says there is a perceived threat either through something you have seen, read, smelt or you sensed it.
Your adrenals (two tiny glands sitting on your kidneys) immediately release a hormone called Cortisol. Signals are then sent all round the body to try and keep the body’s systems balanced during the perceived threat, your energy is also elevated to cope with the stressful situation. Your Adrenals also release Adrenalin, which speeds up the heart to ensure enough blood is pumped to supply the muscles being used with oxygen. Norepinephrine is also released from the adrenals. This enables you to keep up with the faster beating heart, by speeding up your breathing, increasing your blood pressure, and reducing the blood flow to areas of your body which are non essential whilst in fight or flight mode – such as your digestion.
This is how the cascade goes. The cortisol journeys round the body alerting everybody there is a perceived threat, if nobody informs the body that the threat is over it just keeps going. This can get very taxing on the recipients of the message and can then add stress to other organs. Threats should only be there for a short period of time. However in our busy lives, the body does not know when the crisis is over and so remains on high alert.
The Hippocampus in the brain is incredibly vulnerable to ongoing emotional stress and can be damaged by the continual subjection to Cortisol. The Hippocampus is the central area for your learning – your short and long term memory. Whilst under stress, it will promote reactionary emotions to come to the surface rather than dealing with the situation from a learnt or balanced perspective. It blocks your ability to grasp new information to deal with a situation. ie you just felt blank, blocked, or you freeze. It can also exacerbate accessing language, – “I just couldn’t get the words out”
Your Hypothalamus has a role to play here too, which I am sure you will soon recognize. It links your Nervous System with your Endocrine System. When the Stress button is pushed the Endocrine System releases yet more hormones to enable you to cope with the perceived threat. When under threat the normal functions of the body can be affected these being:
Sleep Wake Cycle Regulation
No doubt you can relate to some of these already.
So who are the miscreants? The Hypothalamus when under stress releases Corticotrophin (CRF) into the nervous system. This suppresses your appetite – if you are fighting a fire you don’t need to be thinking about food, this would be an unnecessary use of energy in an emergency. Which in turn if continued sends signals for the release of more Cortisol from the Adrenals. So you can see a viscous circle is beginning.
However, the story does not end there. All this activity stimulates the Pituitary Gland to release Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH), which helps to regulate the levels of Cortisol being released from the Adrenals.
Other hormones get released and become out of balance with the continual perceived threat for example:
Noradrenalin is responsible for our energy levels, if we are continually in over drive due to Stress we feel tired, exhausted, without energy and have no motivation – sound familiar?
Endorphins when balanced give us that wonderful rush of “I feel great”. However, when the body is continually overtaxed they cannot regulate our pain, and so you are left in pain more of the time.
Dopamine enables the body to experience pleasure and joy. Lack of dopamine due to stress, means less jollies – oh dear. ;-(
Serotonin is responsible for regulating your sleep. It is secreted in the gut. If your digestion is shut down due to your body being asked to be alert elsewhere, then less of this valuable hormone can be secreted. The knock on affect – you guessed it – poor sleep.
In summary if your immune system and digestion are permanently shut down due to perceived needs elsewhere, then they are going to start to break down too. Poor digestion, is often the result of stress which can lead to all sorts of other problems in this area, which you may well have experienced such as gut dysbiosis, indigestion, bloating etc.
A shut down immune system lets all sorts of unwanted guests in, such as parasites, bacteria, viruses and fungi. Then you have the co-infections trying to warn you there is a problem.
Solution! Take a good look at your life, is it really worth it. Take your foot off the accelerator. Start saying no. Go for walks, go to bed by 10.00 pm, take some sensible exercise. Eat some nourishing freshly prepared organic food. Spend more time with your family, get away from your family, spend more time in nature.
Most importantly, recognise when to seek help, talk to someone you trust.
For assistance in getting your body and life back on track, please do contact me: [email protected]
Resources: Integrity Biofeedback Inc. and Academy