Constant stress can increase your cholesterol, suppress your immune system and make your tummy ache. Personally, I wonder how our children handle all the modern stresses. Everything from having parents in the fast lane of life to trying to assimilate disasters like 9-11 and the Oklahoma bombing. How do little kids process that kind of information? Will we see an entire nation of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome adults as a result of it?
What is the stress response? Often referred to as the “fight-or-flight” reaction, the stress response occurs automatically when you feel threatened. Your pituitary gland, located at the base of your brain, responds to a perceived threat by stepping up its release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which signals other gland to produce additional hormones. This is like an alarm system going off deep in your brain. The alarm tells your adrenal glands (which sit atop your kidneys), to release a flood of stress hormones into your bloodstream. These hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, focus your concentration, speed your reaction time and increase your strength and agility.
What happens when the stress is over? Hopefully, you’ll be able to “bleed off” all the adrenalin your body produced. If so, your heart rate and blood pressure will return to normal and your digestion and metabolism resume a regular pace. But what if stressful situations pile on top of each other and your body doesn’t have a chance to recover??
Welcome to life in the fast lane. That’s just what is happening in America.. We go faster and faster without “down time” to recover. What if the equivalent of the tiger chasing you in the jungle is a modern tiger called your boss? And everyday you walk back into the concrete jungle of modern America.
Well, here are some of the effects of long term activation of the stress response system. You’ll note that almost all your body’s processes can be affected, increasing your risk of obesity, insomnia, digestive complaints, heart disease and depression.
1) Digestive system. Stomach ache, diarrhea or constipation can happen because stress hormones slow the release of stomach aid and the emptying of the stomach. Chronic stress can lead to high levels of cortisol, can increase appetite and cause weight gain.
2) Immune System. Chronic stress tends to dampen your immune system, making you more susceptible to colds and allergies.
3) Nervous system. If your fight-or=flight response never shuts off, stress hormones produce feelings of anxiety, helplessness and impending doom. Excessive amounts of cortisol can cause sleep disturbances, loss of sex drive and loss of appetite.
4) Cardiovascular system. High levels of cortisol can also raise your heart rate and increase your blood pressure and cholesterol and triglyceride levels. These are risk factors for both heart attacks and strokes. High cortisol levels also appear to play a role in the accumulation of abdominal fat, or an “apple” shape. People with apple shapes have a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes than “pear” body shapes.
Stress wears us down. It erodes our body systems by not allowing time for replenishment and restoring. Lance Armstrong’s doctor stresses two days of rest for every day of hard exercise.
Rest, recreation and down time are the necessary antidote to stress.
Dr. Phyllis Books, DC, is a teacher, doctor, grandmother and developer of Books Neural Therapy™, a natural, non-drug intervention for children with dyslexia and other learning and behavior issues. Her clients call her a combination of: a neurosurgeon, a psychiatrist and Mother Teresa. Mostly, she loves sharing what she learned about kids, how they learn and how they can feel good about themselves and be successful.