So many of my patients, friends, and family members are just so overwhelmed these days. I wonder, are we actually experiencing more stress? Or are we simply becoming more aware of it?
Stress, and its repercussions, play a major role in our day to day health. Learning how to become mindful of our actions, and reactions to stress, is an important aspect of self awareness and self care.
- Are you easily overwhelmed by everyday tasks that were once a breeze?
- Do you get angry over things that never used to bother you?
- Are you having difficulty concentrating?
- Do aches and pains linger longer than they once did?
If you can identify with any of these statements, your body’s system for adapting to stress is not responding as optimally as it should.
Injury, excessive exercise or over training, environmental toxins, processed foods, poor sleep, anger, worry, caffeine, food sensitivities, nutritional deficiencies, finances, fear and poor social support are just a few examples of our modern day stressors. Stress, both positive, and negative, can impact our health depending on how our minds and bodies are set up to handle it.
An important concept that I really emphasize to my patients is that it is not the stress itself that causes our symptoms, but instead, it’s the way our mind and body perceive that stressful situation.
Stress is defined as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.”
I think the second part of his definition is critically important, because we all have the ability to cultivate resilience, or the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. It is when we perceive that something “should” be different that we feel that we have to change, because of an external stimulus. Depending on how we control our world, and based on how we see our world, we will formulate expectations that will either succumb to or resist this external pressure to change.
In other words, we all have a unique power to handle our stressors and formulate our expectations and prevent our bodies from feeling that it needs to change based on a stressful trigger.
Is there a danger to experiencing chronic stress? Absolutely!
Many of our modern day disorders are rooted in the body’s natural stress response. In fact, struggling adrenal glands can signal the beginning of several chronic medical conditions. Infections, diabetes, chronic fatigue, and hormone imbalances are all on the rise, in part from our bodies experiencing overwhelming amounts of stress for extended periods of time.
The body’s central response system to any stress is called the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis or HPA axis. Once triggered by a stress response, our Hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), stimulating the production of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) from the pituitary gland and activating the noradrenergic neurons in the brain. These neurons are responsible for our fight-or-flight response, and subsequently triggering our adrenals glands to release cortisol.
Here is a list of a few key stressors to our Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis –
- Sleep cycle disturbances
- Mental/emotional stress (mood)
- Inflammation and immune status
- Blood sugar imbalance
This is a complicated but delicate network between glands and hormones that are constantly interacting and changing with all of our daily interactions. Any defect or dysfunction that causes an imbalance at any point in this network can cause our HPA axis to shift out of line. As a result, typical symptoms of adrenal fatigue may present and affect both our physical and mental selves.
What does all this mean?
It is critical to our overall health that we cultivate resilience and work on controlling the way we respond to external stressors. The world will not stop throwing stress at us. So it’s our jobs to work on what we can control: how we respond to it.
Each of us has the power to change our stress responses and restore a sense of balance and peace to our lives – and our bodies!