Most of us don’t run from tigers on a daily basis, but we deal with plenty of stress. Whether it’s traffic, work deadlines, financial insecurity, or finding childcare, these perceived threats to our safety and wellbeing kick our body into the stress response. You might think of the stress response as an alarm system, a protective physiological process that prepares us to run for safety or stand and fight. Being on high alert all the time is, simply, exhausting.
When we feel threatened our hypothalamus sends signals to the adrenal glands to release a wave of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases heart rate, elevates blood pressure and boosts energy. Cortisol increases glucose in the bloodstream, and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. This amazing chain of events prepares our body to deal with the threat.
At the same time, cortisol curbs functions that are not essential to surviving the immediate threat. It alters immune responses and suppresses the digestive and reproductive system.
Usually, once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, heart rate and blood pressure return to normal and other systems resume their regular activities.
If stress is constant and the stress response is prolonged, overexposure to stress hormones can lead to numerous health problems, including
- Weakened immune system
- Anxiety and depression
- Digestive Problems
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Weight gain
Learn healthy ways to cope with stress.
- Eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise and plenty of sleep
- Cultivate friendships, a sense of humor and gratitude
- Spend time in nature, find peace and quiet, meditate
- Massage, bodywork and acupuncture can quiet the central nervous system and be a wonderful antidote to stress, helping to keep you balanced and healthy.