Physiology of stress

Physiology Of Stress

We often hear people say how ‘stressed’ they are. But what is stress? What does it actually do to us? And what can we do to better manage stress in our lives?

Stress comes in many different forms and affects all people differently. We can group the stress in our lives into 3 main categories- emotional, chemical and physical.

Emotional stress is what we experience when we talk about ‘being stressed’. Such things as work, expectations from others or of ourselves, living busy lives and the pressure we put ourselves under are all forms emotional stress.

Chemical stress comes from all the different substances we put in our bodies. Too much caffeine or alcohol, the pollution in the air we breathe, medications and even the additives in our water are all examples of chemical stress we subject ourselves to.

Physical stress is from all the bumps, knocks and falls we have. This category also includes poor posture, sitting too long, wearing inappropriate bags (backpacks and handbags) and even wearing high heels!

Our body’s stress response is a short-term survival mechanism designed to protect us in times of threat. It is our “fight or flight” response that is designed to prepare us to either run away from a dangerous situation or stay and fight for life.

No matter the type of stress, our body’s physiological reaction is always very similar. We release hormones and glucose into the bloodstream to provide extra energy and alertness. Here are some of the changes we experience as a result of stress;

increased blood pressure and heart rate

increased cortisol and noradrenaline (stress hormones)

increased glucose levels and insulin resistance

increased clotting factor

increased lipids and cholesterol (increased LDL and decreased HDL)

decreased immunity

decreased short term memory and concentration

decreased serotonin (the neurotransmitter that makes us feel happy)

increased sensitivity of senses- including pain

bone loss and muscle changes

The problem is that this fight or flight response is an instinct to help us survive in the wild, such as if we were to come across a big bear, a brown snake or a boxing kangaroo! However, this instinctive response does not work as well in the modern Western world of constant stimulus and stress that we live in. The longer and more often this stress response is switched on, the more severe the effects on our health.

As you contemplate the above list of physiological responses, it becomes clear just how big a role stress plays in our health. It is no surprise that stress leads to a number of our modern health issues such as heart disease (inc. clotting factor/blood pressure etc), diabetes, (inc. glucose/insulin resistance), and depression (serotonin). Stress can lead to a poor-functioning immune system, poor sleeping patterns, memory or concentration issues and an increased sense of pain. In fact, the stress response has been linked to just about all chronic diseases.

It is important to remember that it is not our body’s response to the stress that is a problem, it is our chronically stressful environment. This is what we need to change. Artificially changing the body’s response (lowering blood pressure/cholesterol/ insulin/clotting factor etc) does not address the cause, it is simply an effort to cover up the effects/symptoms of stress.

What can we do to lessen the effects of stress on our bodies? It is important to realize that just as we all have different forms of stress in our lives, we also respond to them differently. There are a number of ways in which we can decrease our daily stress. The first step is to identify the types of stress in your life (physical, chemical and/or emotional). Once we’ve identified the stress, we can begin to build a plan to address it. Sometimes it can be as simple as changing how you react to a situation, person or place.

There are many ways to better deal with stress. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

walk – it improves breathing and releases endorphins (our happy drugs).

exercise. It doesn’t matter so much what you do, as long as you get moving.

avoid or reduce chemical stressors such as caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol and pollution.

eat good, wholesome food and drink more water.

have regular adjustments- research shows chiropractic adjustments stimulate parts of the brain that help you better cope with stress.

have a massage.

meditate – calming your mind will calm your body as well.

hug someone- a hug will help you relax and promote release of endorphins.

read a book or watch a movie- in a good chair of course!

find a hobby

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