Every week I am posting about everything you need to know about hormones. This weeks topic is about stress.
Did you know …
- Stress is described as pressure or tension exerted on a material object.
- The human body is a material object and the pressure or tension can be physical, mental, emotional, chemical
- Most common causes of stress are money, career, relationships, and threatening situations perceived or real makes no difference
- It can affect anyone, but affects everybody differently
- Even children and animals can be stressed
- Not all stress is negative
- A little stress is good for you
- But all stress should be temporary
- The stress that creates ‘positive’ changes in the body’s biochemistry aka hormones which enables us to react more quickly, is known as acute stress
- However, when the stress becomes regular or chronic the changes in the body’s biochemistry become more negative even destructive, is known as chronic stress
- For most of us, stress is just a part of life. It can last for a few hours – like the hours before a final exam or for years – like taking care of an ailing loved one.
- Stress is sometimes a motivator that helps you rise to the occasion.
- At other times, it’s simply overwhelming.
- Whatever the case, if it’s chronic, it can take a toll on your immune system and your health in so many ways
Meet Sally and get to know all about stress
Physical stress 101
Difference between acute and chronic stress
- The natural, positive stress response
- We encounter what we ‘perceive’ as a threat, such as
– a large dog barking at you
– trying to catch the bus
– worrying about paying the bills
– angry with your partner
- The hypothalamus receives the input, firstly prompting the feelings of motivation and or fear then sets off a cascade of hormonal changes in the body so you can tackle the ‘threat’ aka stressor
- Nervous and hormonal signals prompts the Adrenal glands on top of the kidneys to release a surge of Adrenaline and Cortisol.
- Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies.
- Cortisol increases blood glucose so more energy can be made, especially in the brain
- At the same time the reproductive system, growth processes and digestive system are inhibited. Which makes sense as you don’t want to ‘pee’ in the middle of running away from the barking do
- When the natural stress response goes wild
- The body’s stress response system is usually self-limiting
- Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal.
- As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities.
- But when stressors are always present and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on.
- The long-term activation of the stress response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follows can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of many health problems, including:
– Digestive problems
– Muscle tension and pain
– Heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke
– Sleep problems
– Weight gain
– Memory and concentration impairment
- That’s why it’s so important to learn healthy ways to cope with your life stressors.
Tackling Stress 101
You have 3 choices
- Change the thing that’s stressing you
- Remove yourself from the stress
- Accept the stress because you can’t do number 1 or 2
Stress is a Highly Subjective Affair
How you react to your ‘life stressors’ is as individual as your thumb print.
The following factors may play a role:
- A widely-accepted definition of when stress becomes negative is when the perceived demands of a situation outweigh the available resources.
- Resources refer to
- external factors such as physical and emotional assistance from others, money, and other physical resources
- internal factors such as perception, knowledge, experience, courage and also the level of physical health
- Therefore, the level of resources one has available can make a significant difference in the experience of stress in a given situation.
- The difference in available resources is a major factor in why two people may face the same situation and experience it differently.
Build Your Resources
- Create strong friendships, so you’ll have greater social support in times of stress.
- Plan ahead in terms of time and money, so you’ll have some reserves in case of emergency.
- Try to have a “plan B” in case things go wrong. This doesn’t mean you always think that the worst-case scenario will happen or that your “plan A” is destined to fail, but rather that you’re prepared for anything.
- Another factor that affects whether a situation is perceived as “stressful” is the meaning that people ‘attach’ to the situations.
- Any situation is neutral until you interpret the event
- The way we interpret or perceive is based on the habitual way we think and feel, probably inherited early in childhood
- Changing the way we look at things is a powerful tool to decease stress
Tools to Change the Way you Look at Things
- Reframing techniques, such as when you feel stressed, anxious, fearful, angry, frustrated stop up and analyse which thought is creating that feeling – then ask yourself can I think or interpret the cause differently
- CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
- Cultivate your sense of humour
Physiology & Genetics
- Some people are naturally more sensitive and reactive to stress, possible inherited and or cultivated in childhood due to external environmental stressors
- Overactive or underactive stress responses may stem from slight differences in these genes, but the science is not clear
- Visceral fat is linked to an increase in depression and anxiety
Physical Causes of Stress and the Solutions
Number of working hours
- Working hours in the evening and night are more energy demanding
- How much and when you exercise
- How much and when you sleep
- Maintain Cortisol’s optimal production-cycle as much as possible
– 6am – 6pm activity
– 6pm – 6am rest
- Manage your day – what can you do better?
- Frequent breaks throughout the day, even power-naps
- More rest after 6pm
- Get ready for bed from 8pm – read my article about sleep here
- In bed latest 10pm
- Careful with excessive endurance training
- Train hard for short durations
- No training after 6pm
- Feet above your head is a good position to reduce stress
- Do Yin Yoga.
Emotional Causes of Stress and the Solutions
- Not an easy area to change, but probably the most important
- The habitual way you think
- The habitual way you perceive
- The habitual way you feel – where feelings of anxiousness and fear are most stressful.
- Tools to control / change / reframe the way you think, feel and perceive, such as
- NLP – Neuro Linguistic Programming
- EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique / Tapping
- CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
- Keep a diary
- Don’t worry be happy
- Quickest way to change your mood is movement especially to music – aka dancing
General Strategies to Manage Stress
- Eat a healthy diet
- Get regular exercise
- Get plenty of sleep
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Volunteering creates a feeling of gratitude
- Listen and move to music
- Practice relaxation techniques such as
– Deep breathing
- Create healthy friendships
- Develop a sense of humour – don’t take life serious all the time – find the funny side of situations
- Organize and prioritize – what needs to be accomplished – remove tasks that aren’t necessary
- Seeking professional counselling, to develop specific coping strategies to manage stress
- Avoid unhealthy ways of managing your stress, such as
– Comfort foods
- Cortisol is a catabolic steroid as opposed to Testosterone which is an anabolic steroid
- Catabolic means breakdown, which is one of Cortisol’s jobs – breaking down protein to create glucose a process called gluconeogenisis
- Cortisol is often referred to as the stress hormone
- Possibly not a fair description as Cortisol, through the changes it makes in the body’s metabolism is actually trying to help you survive the ‘stress’
- I like to think of Cortisol as the hormone that ensures extra available energy in the form of blood sugar / glucose so all cells can maintain the extra workload to cope with the ‘stress’
- BTW the extra glucose is produced from the break-down of proteins in your skin, bone and muscle, ie. all the tissue the body deems non-essential when you have a ‘stress’ to neutralise.
- Are you getting the picture?
- The body is well equipped for short-term, acute ‘stress’ with no permanent damage inflicted
- But if the ‘stress’ becomes long-term and chronic permanent damage is more than likely and I’m talking about much more than thin skin, weak bones and muscles
Cortisol and Inflammation
- Cortisol is the body’s major anti-inflammatory molecule, where inflammation of any kind will increase its production.
- Chronic inflammation has been coined as ‘the silent killer’ as it can be present inside the body without our conscious awareness.
- The typical symptoms of inflammation are pain, heat, swelling, redness and reduced or loss of function.
- Think about a sprained ankle and you will recognise all these symptoms.
- When the inflammation inside the body you will not be able to see if there is redness or swelling, you might not feel the pain or the heat and may not even be aware of the lost function, at least not initially.
- This is why it’s known as ‘the silent killer’.
- But your brain is aware of the inflammation and extra Cortisol will be produced.
- By the way the effects of Cortisol are not selective, ie. if inflammation is causing the increase in Cortisol production or you’re using Cortisol medication, such as hydrocortisone creams or pills, proteins will still be broken down.
Cortisol and Immune Defence
- Cortisol has a controlling, calming, regulatory effect on the immune system
- Basically it prevents the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation.
- As a medication it is used to treat inflammatory conditions such as
– rheumatoid diseases
– skin problems such as rashes and eczema
- Cortisol can weaken or control the immune system by preventing the production of many pro-inflammatory signalling molecules
- If your immune system is working overtime to kill ‘the bugs’ it can mistakenly attack your own tissue. In this case Cortisol becomes your BFF acting as an immunosuppressor
- Cortisol also inhibits IgA and IgM antibodies
- Morning cortisol production is CAR-Cortisol Awakening Response and is essential for destroying T immune cells that haven’t developed correctly and thereby preventing autoimmune problems
- But Cortisol also supports immune defence by stimulating the enzyme superoxide dismutase which produces superoxides that poison bacteria.
Cortisol Insulin Relationship
- Under normal circumstances, cortisol counterbalances the action of insulin.
- Under stress or synthetic cortisol given as a medication (prednisone therapy or cortisone injection), Cortisol levels become elevated and counteracts Insulin activity and you end up insulin resistant
- Cortisol stimulates gluconeogenesis – the making of extra glucose from breaking down non-carbohydrate molecules, such as protein especially collagen.
- Insulin encourages the building of proteins where cortisol inhibits
- Cortisol inhibits the peripheral use of glucose, such as in muscle tissue by decreasing the movement of glucose transporters (especially GLUT4) to the cell membrane. So no glucose is absorbed, which leads to Insulin resistance
- Cortisol inhibits insulin production in an attempt to prevent glucose from being stored, favouring its immediate use especially in the brain
Symptoms of Too Much Cortisol, Tool Long
- weight gain, especially belly fat
- high blood pressure
- sleep problems
- lack of energy
- type 2 diabetes
- thin skin
- muscle weakness
- brain fog
- memory problems
- frequent infections
- and much more