Stress – how does it affect our body and how can we cope better?
In today’s fast-paced life, when all focus is on business, we need to step back and have a look at what stress is doing to our body, and find a way to help our body to cope better.
Even more so as statistics show that Ireland loses around 40 million working days annually due to stress related illnesses, and it costs us a whopping €10-12 billion each year!
Stress hormones alter our bodily functions and systems, and nutritional therapy can help us cope better with everyday challenges.
What is Stress?
Stress has been described as the pressure we experience in situations that threaten our well-being or tax our resources. It is any stimulus that upsets the body’s natural balance, may it be external or internal. The stress response is designed to enable us to deal with difficult challenges or to prompt us to get out of a dangerous situation – therefore it is needed and short term it is good. Normally, once the stressful event has passed, a feedback loop will shut down the response to restore homeostasis.
Unfortunately the sort of daily stress that is so common today confuses the feedback system and it sometimes fails to switch off.
Physical and Mental Contributors
Prolonged exposure to stress becomes a problem and inevitably leaves us feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope with daily challenges. Overwork lack of sleep, physical illness, hormonal imbalances, medications, excessive alcohol and stimulants (tea, coffee, smoking and social drugs) are all common physical factors that contribute to ongoing stress whilst psychological issues including depression and anxiety are also contributing factors. Interpretation of stress is very individual. What may be stressful for one person may not be for another. It is all down to how we cope with it!
Your Response to Stress is Inborn
In the short term, stress triggers the “fight or flight” response. This reaction is our body’s primitive, automatic, inborn response that prepares the body to “fight” or “flee” from perceived attack, harm or threat to our survival. It works today the same way as it did millions of years ago when we had to fight or run away from … let’s say a tiger.
Response Prepares Your Body for an Attack
The hormones adrenalin and noradrenalin are released by the adrenal medulla that increase heart and breathing rate, blood sugar levels (to feed our brain that only uses sugar for fuel) and blood pressure; increase circulation to essential organs needed for the fight (brain and muscles) and decrease activity of non essential functions such as digestion, urinary and reproductive activities – it is highly unlikely that we stop for a snack or mate whilst running away from danger.
These hormones also increase platelet aggregation, thus thicken blood in case we get injured; mobilize fatty acids from peripheral areas of the body and deposit them around the midriff area where it can be utilised faster (this is why we are so prone to put on weight around the midriff area).
Continual Stress Can Have Serious Consequences
But the most detrimental effect of stress hormones is that they alter our immune system, makes us more prone to cell damage by viruses and free radicals and contribute to allergies and autoimmune diseases. Soon after this primary reaction and during the early stages of chronic stress Cortisol is released from the adrenal cortex to maintain the stress response. A state of continual stress eventually exhausts our adrenal glands and leads to adrenal fatigue and complete physical and mental exhaustion. Without treatment, it can cause adrenal atrophy – a permanent damage. To find out about treatment
Nutrition is extremely important in helping the body cope with prolonged exposure to stress. Focusing on a diet that helps to support the adrenal glands, promote energy production and calm the nervous system can have a profound effect on helping the body cope when exposed to stress.
As always, the functional medicine approach always starts with a thorough investigation with detailed case taking and laboratory tests to find the root of the problem, whatever the health concern may be. We are all very individual: as there are no two snowflakes alike, neither are any two human bodies. Once we found the cause, with a tailor made menu plan and herbal supplement regime your body can be gently ushered back to health – without side effects.