Your body is programmed to respond to any perceived stress in a very predictable and consistent manner. As a result, your physiology will respond to the combinations of physical, chemical, and emotional stresses that you experience. Understand that this is a perfect response and is there to increase your likelihood of survival to stressful experiences. Your body does not know or “care” if this stress is from a real life-threatening situation like a confrontation with a tiger or a perceived stress such as completing and paying your taxes – the body response will be the same. Understanding this response and then understanding that one of the primary keys to better health is the ability to inhibit or shut off this response is critical to any wellness program. We intend to share this response with you and show you how your diet, exercise, as well as your thinking all determine your response to life’s stresses.
When Your Brain Perceives a Stress
The Sympathetic or Fight/Flight portion of the nervous system is stimulated.
Symptom: “Revved up”, edgy, and inability to relax/sleep, Constriction of the arteries, Increase heart rate and blood pressure
Nerve supply and blood supply to the gut is decreased and to the periphery is increased
Symptom: Decreased digestion, Acid Reflux, Bloating, Constipation, Irritable Bowel
The nervous system decreases reproductive hormones
Symptom: Sexual dysfunction and lack of drive
The pituitary decreases growth hormone
Symptom: Inability to build muscle
The adrenal glands release adrenaline/epinephrine and cortisol
Symptom: Increased Blood Sugar, Hypoglycemia, Diabetes
Cortisol causes the liver to reduce HDL (good cholesterol) and increase LDL (bad stuff)
Symptom: High cholesterol and increased cardiac risk factor This increases cravings for sugar and for fatty foods
Adrenal hormones stimulate the amygdala (emotional center) of the brain to call on previous memory. At the same time, logical thinking centers are inhibited.
Symptom: Difficulty remembering and learning new information, Cells of the Hippocampus have actually been shown to shrink!!
Adrenal hormones increase senses of touch, smell, hearing and sight
Symptom: Easily distracted — poor attention Increased sensitivity and heightened pain perception (fibromyalgia)
The fight/flight response will also result in decreased sleep. Shortening even one night’s sleep by 4 hours causes a significant reduction in insulin receptor sensitivity. Chronically, this reaction coupled with high blood sugar leads to type II diabetes, syndrome X, heart disease, obesity, cancer, and chronic fatigue. In short-term stress, Serotonin would be released to inhibit the release of noradrenalin to help stop the stress response. However, in chronic stress, serotonin production cannot keep up resulting in depression, fatigue, and trouble sleeping.