Are You Always Stressed?
By Adrian Lopresti, PhD
How does the stress response work?Our stress response all starts in the brain. The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that responds to stressful situations and releases a hormone called corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH). This hormone then reaches another part of the brain called the pituitary gland, which then releases another hormone called adrenocorticotrophic releasing hormone (ACTH). ACTH then moves to a part of the body called the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are then responsible for releasing adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline is the fast-acting stress hormone. Cortisol, however, can remain in the body for a fair amount of time and can eventually cause damage throughout the whole body. This process in the body is called the HPA axis (H = hypothalamus; P = Pituitary; A = Adrenals) and is also often referred to as the ‘fight or flight stress response.'
What are the dangers associated with too much stress?Stress is certainly not always bad and is actually an important part of our survival response. Imagine never getting stressed about things. Nothing would get done! And you will be the first person to get eaten by that big ferocious lion! The problem is nowadays, many people's stress response is turned on too often (or too intensely). Their HPA axis is too reactive, and this can lead to problems. Our bodies are just not designed to withstand this much stress hormone.
Unfortunately, for some people, they are born with a very sensitive stress response (or HPA axis). This means that small triggers can set off this process. For others, long-term demands at work or school, family stresses, financial problems, social pressures and health problems can sensitise our stress response. This can lead to poor sleep, depression, headaches, muscle pain and fatigue. A hyperactive stress response is also associated with numerous medical conditions such as heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, skin conditions, and even numerous cancers. For some people, a prolonged stressed response can overwhelm the HPA axis eventually leading to a lowered stress hormone production (remember we need stress hormones to function properly). Lowered stress hormones are often associated with chronic pain conditions, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Some anxiety disorders and types of depression are also associated with a lowered stress response.
How do you reduce the stress response?
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