How Body Responds to Stress

Humans are created with a complex system for responding to danger. While these fight-or-flight responses serve as protection, they can lead to long term health problems.

“Stress kills”. Chronic stress is often translated to physical symptoms and physical health issues are likely to have their expression in the mental aspect. There are particular chemical reaction and processes in which our body reacts when people feel stressed. The most common causes of stress are job change, marital failure, death of loved ones, moving homes and of course, stress from workplace and illnesses.

We need certain amount of stress in our life to maintain health and to keep our body function active. However, if the stress keeps mounting and the stressor is not removed or alleviated in a limited time period, our body responds in a way that would downgrade immune system, the capability to cope with the stress will be compromised, resulting in the sickness.

The stress response is a chemical reaction. Heart rate, blood sugar, blood pressure, and breathing rate all rise during stress to get body ready for action. Additionally, cholesterol and triglycerides increase; fluid is retained; and platelet clumping and free radicals are increased.

When a person is stressed, the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated. The body system is alarmed to face what is perceives as a danger. Epinephrine is secreted from the adrenal medulla, the hypothalamus-pituitary glands are activated to release ACTH (Adrenal Corticotrophic Hormone) , which in turn causes the adrenal cortex to increase production of the anti-stress hormone cortisol. When a person has been under a chronic stress, the body keeps releasing cortisol and maintains it in a high level, which certainly taxes adrenal glands.

Eventually, our adrenal glands are tired, not capable to keep up with the body’s demand for the hormone. The cortisol level will start to decline and fall back to the normal. While ACTH level remains high, cortisol level is low, there will be an imbalance in the hormone releasing. Many symptoms may start emerge, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, allergy, and fatigue are often seen in this stage.

Many of these symptoms represent what is known as a “reactive sympathoadrenal response.” The response is the result of over-activation of two components of automnomic nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenomedullary hormonal system. Collectively, these two components constitute the sympathoadrenal system. When the system is over stimulated, the body is overflowed with adrenaline and norepinephrine, consequently a series of chronic symptoms are developed. Such as impaired metabolic state, brain fog, heart palpitations and high blood pressure, are all in one way or another related to the chronic stress.

There is a strong mind-body connection in many mental or physical illnesses. When we deal with pathologic issues, we should have psychological perspective, the health problems should be treated with mental health in the scope. According to the theory of Chinese Traditional Medicine, life includes both physical and mental, a whole body approach is the general principle in treating any type of diseases.

The transition pathway

Short term effects

Stimulus: When it senses a potential threat, a loud noise or a shadowy figure on a dark street, the brain initiates a cascade of events that readies the body for action.

a.Hypothalamus:  In response to warning signals, this structure secretes a chemical called CRH that stimulates the nearby pituitary gland.

b.Pituitary:  The gland makes a molecule called ACTH, which travels to the adrenal glands.

c.Adrenal glands: The glands release cortisol. This hormone helps keep up blood sugar, giving the body extra energy to act.

Related responses:

The adrenals produce epinephrine, which increases heart and breathing rates. Blood pressure rises; the legs and arms receive extra blood for energy.

Long term effects

While well adapted to passing threats that require immediate action, our stress responses are less effective against constant, low-level annoyances, such as a pushy boss or a hectic daily commute.

Health problems:

After years of chronic activation, stress responses can wear the body down. Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Impaired memory
  • A weakened immune system
  • High blood pressure
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Skin problems
  • Digestive difficulties





Comments are closed.