Stress and Your Body

I just listened to an interesting talk on stress and wanted to share some takeaways because it was eye opening for me. Let's be honest, we are all living fast paced lives and stress is overwhelming at times. While this post is a little "scientific and nerdy" I think you will find it beneficial.

There are two types of stress: positive and negative.

Stress is a normal reaction to exciting events like falling in love, getting a new job, or buying a home. Stress is also a hardwired survival technique built into your body as a means of protection. When triggers arise, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) signals the "fight or flight response" which mobilizes you to take action and avoid danger.

The problem with this is that your body does not know the difference between a bear chasing you and work-related anxiety.

Your body's stress response is perfectly normal and healthy when there is a real emergency (like that bear chasing you), but if your body is constantly getting stress signals for everyday issues (work-related anxiety, reading a horrifying new story, family emergencies, the list goes on), you'll burn out over time (been there, done that).


1. The alarm stage

When your body goes into panic mode, your SNS is activated to protect you from stress, and your brain triggers adrenal glands to secrete hormones like cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline). The rest of your body reacts to these hormones equipping you with emergency fuel and energy in reaction to your panic. As stress levels rise, there is an increase in your pulse (heart beat), blood pressure, blood sugars, blood fats, respiration, sweating and pupil dilation.

2. The adaptive/resistance stage

After the initial stress response, your body attempts to return to its stable stage. BUT, if your stress reactions are too strong or triggered too often, your body will remain on high alert (remember I mentioned above that your body will have increased blood sugars and fats due to this response). As a result of this constant stress, your body will build up a resistance to coexist with continuous stressors. This extended release of stress hormones has adverse effects on your body, lowering your immunity (body's ability to fight infection) and making you more susceptible to illness.

3. The exhaustion stage

When the body continues to function in this high alert state, your emergency resources are depleted and your body starts to shut down. This final, burnout stage represents the body's inability to cope with continuous high demands. I mean, can you imagine being constantly chased by a bear?


Just as the SNS turns on the "fight or flight response" there is a system that turns it off- the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS). Opposite of the SNS the PSNS helps the body conserve energy and rest. The ability to go from "fight or flight" to "rest and digest" is critical for your well being.

Unfortunately, a return to relaxation doesn't occur promptly for most people in today's fast paced society. While we are all running around in panic mode from our everyday worries, chronic stress is disrupting the natural balance required for optimum health, speeding up the aging process (no one wants that), and increasing the body's susceptibility to illness. We need to find ways to activate the relaxation response.

Here are some ideas to help you reduce your everyday stress and activate that relaxation response

1. Practice calming activities like meditation (more to come on meditation in future posts) and exercise

2. Organize your work and living spaces to be clutter free, and peaceful.

3. Prioritize your tasks and focus on one thing at at time.

4. Delegate tasks

Don't let everyday stressors get the best of you. Life is too short!


Julie FitSmith

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