Stress is a part of life. We all have ways of dealing with stress. Some people control stress with natural remedies and some with medications. What we all know is that stress is bad for our health. What effect does stress have on our physical and mental health?
What happens when we feel stress?
The brain is the command center of our bodies. It takes in the interactions of life and responds in a way that makes us deal with those interactions. Life can present positive and joyous experiences, but it can also put us in stressful situations. The brain uses automatic responses and hormones to help people cope with everyday experiences.
When stress is presented to the human body, the brain uses an organ called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is part of the central nervous system and communicates with the adrenal glands to release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. This is our body’s fight or flight response. The heart beats faster and breathing quickens to oxygenate blood for the muscles to be ready for an emergency response. Typically, when the stress is gone, the hypothalamus turns off the hormones and everything returns to normal. This is all well and good, to keep us safe. What if the stress never goes away? What happens when the body is in a continuous cycle of fight or flight?
Adrenaline and Cortisol: The Stress Hormones
Adrenaline and cortisol work together to prepare the body for a stressful situation. Adrenaline is a powerful hormone that controls the body’s response in many ways. Blood vessels constrict, so that blood is redirected to large muscle groups. Airways open wider to take in more oxygen. Senses are heightened, and strength is often increased for a short time. It is your body’s way of protecting itself when under duress. Have you ever heard stories of people lifting a car or running long distances while hurt or fleeing? That is the work of adrenaline.
If adrenaline is released too often, or continuously, there can be harmful results. Not only does the body become adapted to the adrenaline, causing adrenaline exhaustion, but also it becomes jittery, anxious, and leaves you feeling irritable and tired. Extended overproduction of adrenaline can cause serious medical conditions, such as elevated blood sugar, heart disease, anxiety, weight loss, fertility issues, and high blood pressure.
Cortisol, which is also released when the body faces stress, is a critical part of good health. Primarily located in the adrenal and pituitary glands, this hormone reduces inflammation in the body, controls blood sugar levels, and maintains healthy levels of blood pressure. Again, there can be many negative effects on the body if the hypothalamus does not regulate the release of cortisol. With continuous stress comes the continuous release of cortisol, creating high and possibly dangerous hormone levels. With high levels of cortisol, the body can develop Cushing Syndrome, osteoporosis, libido and menstrual cycle irregularities, and depression and anxiety. Cushing Syndrome causes the body to rapidly gain weight in the face and torso, leaving the limbs thin. Other symptoms include a flushed, red face and high blood pressure. Along with Cushing Syndrome, osteoporosis can present itself. Osteoporosis is a serious medical condition that leads to bone loss and weak or brittle bones. Libido and menstrual cycles can become irregular or disappear when there is a high level of cortisol in the body.
Another side effect of too much cortisol is a weakened immune system. This is especially important for people who already have a compromised immune system due to autoimmune diseases and cancer. An excess of cortisol can suppress the body’s ability to fight off disease. A common cold can become much worse if the body is under severe stress.
Although adrenaline and cortisol are intended to help the body stay safe and healthy, if you find that you are chronically stressed, it is important to find a remedy before the stress hormones wreak havoc on your health. It is nearly impossible to relieve the body of all stress. However, you can manage stress levels and reduce chronic and severe episodes of stress and that will prevent stress-related medical conditions.
There are many ways that you can manage and reduce stress in the body. Avoiding caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol will help keep the heart, lungs, and liver functioning properly. Physical activity, restful sleep, relaxation techniques, and talking to someone can also help relieve some stress in the body and maintain a healthy mind.
Life is commonly stressful and not all stress is bad. However, it is important to take action and manage stress before it can damage the mind and body. Chronic stress can put someone at risk for depression, anxiety, addiction, high blood pressure, and an inability to fight disease. We can help you control stress and maintain good health. Visit our website and make an appointment to consult with our staff members about your health needs.