Hello everyone, hope you are all staying well and hopefully keeping stress at bay during this time. This week I'm talking you through what actually happens in your body when you are faced with stress. I'm explaining in simpler terms the physiological and pathophysiological aspects so you can have a better understanding of what's actually going on inside. Before I get into this, I just wanted to let you know also that I have an article detailing some of my favourite herbs to support mental health - which can be taken as a tea, liquid herbs or powdered - depending on your preference. You can find the article here.
A stress response within the body can occur for any number of reasons. When there is a demand placed on the body for example heat, cold, chemicals, micro organisms, physical trauma or a strong emotional reaction this will often take place.
What is the Stress Response ?
Detailed is the physiological response your body exhibits when stress is noted. There are two components to the response - one is very fast and one slower; both acting together to try and bring the body back to it's normal state (homeostasis).
Our fast response is through the activation of the sympathetic nervous system - this is something you will likely have heard of before, perhaps referred to as your 'fight or flight' response. Indeed this is what the sympathetic nervous system is and does - specifically it increases the levels of the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine ( adrenaline and noradrenaline), within your circulation - as well as elevates levels of noradrenaline within the brain. This is actually referred to as the "sympathetic-adrenomedullary system".
Our slow response is provided by the hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical (HPA) axis. When this is activated there is a release of corticotrophin releasing factor or CRF. This is released from the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN) - which is a part of your hypothalamus (remember that part of your brain from psych class? - it is responsible for your automatic body processes, among other things ). So then this stimulates the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropin hormone or (ACTH) into your blood stream. This ACTH that has been released increases the rate of discharge of glucocorticoids (ie. cortisol) from the adrenal cortex.
What Health Effects Does the Response Produce ?
The stress response I just explained above is a completely normal and even healthy response. The problem occurs when we begin to experience stress more often than not; when we become stressed over things that have no need for our 'fight and flight' response, is when we see secondary issues begin to arise.
Chronic stress is considered to be stress lasting for more than 1 month. Studies have found that in rat models, when stressful situations are applied daily for 4 - 6 week (so considered chronic stress), their spatial short term memory becomes impaired - however there is no effect on learning or long term memory at this point. When it comes to longer periods of stress (these studies showed 12+ weeks) there is a negative affect on both short and long term memory. Chronic stress can also facilitate and or enhance the magnitude of ones depression.
Aside from the impacts stress has on our brains structure and function (such as hypertrophy of the amygdala and atrophy of the hippocampus) it can also impact many other areas of the body. Stress plays a huge role in cardiovascular disorders, through inflammation and other mechanisms, and along side this other inflammatory diseases. Other 'side effects' include lowered immune function, fatigue, insomnia, major depression and more.
What Can Be Done?
Alright so now you've learnt a little more about stress and some of the physiological mechanisms that your body is undergoing when stress presents itself - but what can we do to prevent the long term effects ?
From a naturopathic perspective there are oh so many things that can be done to help one deal better with stress - thereby not eliciting the initial cascade in the first place. Essentially helping the body and mind to stay calm and not trigger your stress response as often. There are many ways this can be done, for example through herbs that help to down regulate the HPA axis spoken about, lifestyle practices that retrain your system and how it responds (for example meditation and breathing techniques), and of course the diet, which for many people who experience chronic stress may be lacking (in nutrients, the amount needed etc.)
For those of you interested in working with me, I have created a waitlist you can sign up to and be notified once Naturopathy appointments become available. You can find this here.
I hope you found this information useful and or insightful - if you did like this article please do leave a comment down below or share on your socials.
Hope you are all staying well.
Hope you are all staying well.
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