Let’s talk about stress! This past year has been absolutely crazy and pretty stressful for many us, but what actually happens to our bodies when we encounter a stressful event? What happens if the stress persists? Well, the stress response has two parts. The first part focuses on the immediate, split second response to get your body into that fight or flight mode that we have all heard about. The second part allows your body to stay on alert and be able to respond to continued stress. Let’s break it down a little better, though.
Your body perceives a stressor, and the hypothalamus receives a distress signal.
The hypothalamus uses the autonomic nervous system to signal to the rest of your body that it’s GO time.
The adrenal glands are activated and release adrenaline (epinephrine).
Adrenaline causes your heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure to increase. It also heightens your senses and signals your body to release stored glucose and fat for energy.
The initial surge of adrenaline starts to decrease, and the HPA axis is activated.
The activation of the HPA axis leads to a series of signals that travel from the hypothalamus, to the pituitary, and then to the adrenals.
Once the adrenals are activated, they release cortisol which allows the body to stay in the fight or flight mode.
When the body no longer perceives the stressor, cortisol starts to drop, and the body can start to go back to its resting state.
The stress response is a necessary process, and one that we would all welcome if we were being chased by a bear. The problem arises when we are chronically stressed and don’t allow our bodies to come down from this revved up mode. This can cause problems such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, weight gain, and fatigue.
But how do we prevent this? Well, we can’t always change what’s happening around us, so we need to focus on things that we can change. Relaxation techniques including meditation, prayer, or deep breathing can all be helpful to lower cortisol and allow your body to come out of that fight or flight mode. Exercise and good nutrition not only help you to relax, but also when we eat well, we feel better. Talking to a friend or therapist can also be helpful. Sometimes we just need to get “it” off our chests. If all else fails, maybe you need to reevaluate the stressful situation you’re in and find a way to separate yourself from it.
Remember, stress is a normal part of life, and our body’s response to it should be a welcomed one. We just need to do our part to allow ourselves to come out of that fight of flight mode, and transition back to our rest and recover state.
Go check out these two articles to better understand the stress response and helpful tips to decrease stress: