Stress seems, in my opinion, to always be a topic of controversy, at least in our own minds. While we readily reject the idea that we are affected by stress, we know it exists and if not kept at bay it can wreak havoc on the body and it's systems.
This is a reality that none of us wants to truly accept and we easily contribute the symptoms as something that's "just all in your head."
We have so much going on in our lives that if we admit to having loads of stress it would mean we would have to do something about it, or worse, we are aware of the stress in our lives and the possible problems it can create but, unable to let go of any one thing on our plate, we decide the symptoms are probably just seasonal and we can handle it. We silently jeer when we hear of some celebrity that checked in to hospital for a few days due to stress, yet secretly wish it were ourselves who could get the break.
If we are able to move out of the state of denial and recognize that stress is indeed a real factor in life and in whether or not we experience great health, we can take the steps forward towards managing it and increase our quality of life.
According to the American Institute of Stress, "...stress is difficult for scientists to define because it is a highly subjective phenomenon that differs for each of us. Things that are distressful for some individuals can be pleasurable for others. We also respond to stress differently. Some people blush, some eat more while others grow pale or eat less. There are numerous physical as well as emotional responses as illustrated by the following list of some 50 common signs and symptoms of stress."
1. Frequent headaches, jaw clenching or pain
2. Insomnia, nightmares, disturbing dreams
3. Gritting, grinding teeth
4. Difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts
5. Stuttering or stammering
6. Trouble learning new information
7. Tremors, trembling of lips, hands
8. Forgetfulness, disorganization, confusion
9. Neck ache, back pain, muscle spasms
10. Difficulty in making decisions.
11. Light headedness, faintness, dizziness
12. Feeling overloaded or overwhelmed.
13. Ringing, buzzing or "popping sounds
14. Frequent crying spells or suicidal thoughts
15. Frequent blushing, sweating
16. Feelings of loneliness or worthlessness
17. Cold or sweaty hands, feet
18. Little interest in appearance, punctuality
19. Dry mouth, problems swallowing
20. Nervous habits, fidgeting, feet tapping
21. Frequent colds, infections, herpes sores
22. Increased frustration, irritability, edginess
23. Rashes, itching, hives, "goose bumps"
24. Overreaction to petty annoyances
25. Unexplained or frequent "allergy" attacks
26. Increased number of minor accidents
27. Heartburn, stomach pain, nausea
28. Obsessive or compulsive behavior
29. Excess belching, flatulence
30. Reduced work efficiency or productivity
31. Constipation, diarrhea
32. Lies or excuses to cover up poor work
33. Difficulty breathing, sighing
34. Rapid or mumbled speech
35. Sudden attacks of panic
36. Excessive defensiveness or suspiciousness
37. Chest pain, palpitations
38. Problems in communication, sharing
39. Frequent urination
40. Social withdrawal and isolation
41. Poor sexual desire or performance
42. Constant tiredness, weakness, fatigue
43. Excess anxiety, worry, guilt, nervousness
44. Frequent use of over-the-counter drugs
45. Increased anger, frustration, hostility
46. Weight gain or loss without diet
47. Depression, frequent or wild mood swings
48. Increased smoking, alcohol or drug use
49. Increased or decreased appetite
50. Excessive gambling or impulse buying
As demonstrated in the above list, stress can have wide ranging effects on emotions, mood and behavior. Equally important but often less appreciated are effects on various systems, organs and tissues all over the body, as illustrated by the following diagram.
The body recovers quickly and when the stressor is gone it returns to relaxation state and the parasympathetic part of the autonomic nervous systems takes over, moving into parasympathetic tone. Digestion activities resume, blood flow and lungs return to normal.
Real problems start to occur when we spend too much time in sympathetic tone, or fight or flight mode. We are not removing the stressors that allow us to return to normal, relaxation state, and our stress becomes chronic and can result in some ugly problems. Some of these are listed in the picture below.
Most of us have heard of the hormone, Cortisol. Advanced Health and Life Extension explaining that (...Cortisol plays an important role in regulating blood sugar, energy production, inflammation, the immune system and healing.
If you have too little cortisol, you may suffer with fatigue, chronic fatigue, exhaustion and possibly Addison's disease (endocrine system disease). If you're glands are producing too much cortisol, you may develop conditions such as weight gain, especially around the abdomen, depressed immune function with all of the consequences, accelerated aging and stomach ulcers.
A lot of attention has been directed to the effects of excess cortisol on weight gain and difficulty losing weight. Collectively the various diet plans being promoted by a long list of diet gurus have a failure rate of approximately 93-97%. There are several reasons for this. One s clearly the difficulty in achieving behavioral modification in the face of easy availability of the wrong kind of foods, inherently sedentary lifestyles, and intense media programming. Another reason is that some of our hormones work against us, in the weight loss perspective. High cortisol levels is one of the culprits.
Cortisol is elevated in response to stress. The adrenal glands are not particular, any kind of stress will do: physical, environmental, chemical or imaginary. The human brain is hard wired with automatic responses to protect the body from harm.... In the fight or flight response, the adrenal glands enlarge and secrete large quantitates of adrenal cortical hormones, which suppress inflammatory responses and mobilize the body's energy reserves. It puts the body on Red Alert and diverts all of the body's biochemical resources to immediate survival. The body's self-healing mechanisms are arrested, the immune system is suppressed, glycogen stores in the liver and muscle tissue are mobilized to raise blood sugar level and digestion and assimilation are inhibited. The stomach lining becomes thin and ulcerated and the thymus gland and lymphatic tissue shrinks) [Advanced Health and Life Extension, Cortisol].
Dr. Hans Selye further explains that the flight or flight response works well when dealing with mandating food, but it is not suited for our modern lifestyle. Battling traffic, competing for parking spaces, watching the evening news produces the same physiological responses as running for your life and the stimuli don't stop and go away, leaving the body with chronic high cortisol levels.
As all forms of stress produce the same physiological consequences, including environmental (heat, cold and noise, etc.), chemical (pollution, drugs, etc.), physical (overexertion, trauma, infection, etc.), psychological (worry, fear, etc.) and biochemical (nutritional deficiencies, refined sugar consumption, etc.), the body goes through three stages of response:
1. Stage One: Reaction - the body experiences the symptoms from the stressor/trauma, the endocrine system responds with the release of cortisol and other hormones to compensate, the heart beats faster, blood pressure rises, pupils dilate.
2. Stage Two: Adaptation - after the adrenal glands have enlarged and released large quantities of adrenal cortical hormones the symptoms disappear and the individual feels good, has energy, and is able to function in the presence of the stressors.
3. Stage Three: Exhaustion - After an extended period in stage two, the body's reserves of nutritional elements and resilience becomes depleted. The symptoms return and there is now no relief. The individual may collapse physically, suffer a nervous breakdown, become dysfunctional and/or experience an organ or body system failure (heart attack, stroke, etc.).
4. An optional fourth state is Death. If the stresses continue after stage three is reached and the body is no longer able to adapt and rest, regeneration, and healing do not occur, the consequence is death.
It is important to recognize that an individual in this cycle short of stage four can reverse the consequences of stress by removing themselves from the stressors, giving themselves rest, peace of mind, and nutritional support that is necessary to restore the body's reserves. It is also important to recognize that an individual in stage two has physiologically adapted and they feel asymptomatic and are usually, therefore, not too concerned about or even conscious of what is happening, such as suppression of the immune system. These individuals are more susceptible to infections, colds, allergies, etc. In the presence of new and dangerous infectious diseases, this can be a very important matter.
Here's what Advanced Health and Life Extension (AHLE) recommend for how to correct your cortisol level and rid yourself of stressors:
Stress reduction is essential to normalize cortisol. Each individual should explore and find the stress reduction techniques that work best for themselves. Meditation, physical activities, attitude changes, etc. Without stress reduction, all therapeutic and support measures will eventually fail.
Rest. This may sound obvious, but it must be managed and scheduled as a deliberate strategy, choice and course of action, otherwise it gets forgotten in the busyness of life.
A low glycemic diet is important. Sugar handling stress increases cortisol levels. Elevated cortisol, in turn aggravates the sugar handling situation contributing to the development of high insulin levels and ultimately diabetes.
Nutrition supplementation is very valuable in restoring normal cortisol levels. It is important, however, to recognize if your cortisol levels are high or low. Low cortisol levels are the consequence of adrenal exhaustion or the exhaustion phase of the stress response. High cortisol levels are the result of the response to chronic stress and represent the adaptation phase of the stress response.
For basic adrenal support, include:
* A good complete multiple vitamin and mineral supplement. (doTERRA makes an excellent product call Life Long Vitality, which is centered on these principles and essential oils science and are my favorite of all the brands I've used. They are some of the best on the market and offer a 30 day money back guarantee).
*Vitamin C - 1 capsule (500-1000mg) three times per day
*B5 (500mg) 1 capsule per day
*B6 (50mg) 1 capsule per day
AHLE also recommend Phosphatidlserine (PS) as one of the most effective ways to lower excess cortisol and is believed to facilitate the repair of the cortisol receptors in the hypothalamus, which may get damaged by high cortisol levels reducing the ability of the hypothalamus to sense and correct high cortisone levels. It is useful for both high and low cortisol levels, useful for preventing short-term memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease. Typical dosages are 1-3 100mg capsules per day.
Adaptogens in the form of herbs.... and in our case we use doTERRA essential oils - 50-70 times more potent than dried herbs. Relora, and DHEA are also recommended.
Essential oils are of utmost efficacy when it comes to stress management. Each has calming properties that help in decreasing stress yet some can also increase energy. They are so effective that Vanderbilt Hospital is using them!