The definition of stress is anything that creates a change in our body. Initially designed for life-threatening stress like being attacked by a predator, temperature extremes, poisons, and venoms etc. You cant afford to wait to see what the stress is so you can shoot first and ask questions later just in case it is life-threatening. Now that our body is exposed to other stresses such as work life, society interactions, phones, behaviour and rules, wi-fi, electromagnetic radiation, phones, toxins, pollution, chemicals, phones and so many more we are learning everyday are adding burden to our body. Initiating innate survival techniques in response to the change.
If were getting chased by a tiger; massive amounts of adrenalin and cortisol would have been released by the body so we could (hopefully) outrun or outfight the beast. If we didnt have that response, we would have been the big cats lunch; and of course, then not had a chance to make babies. This is partly why there are so many people suffering from stress in the world. You inherited a survival technique that is ideal for surviving acute life-threatening stress but may not be the most efficient way to deal with a troll, a text, bills, public speaking, crowds, or that boss on your back.
How we react to stress
Nowadays, most of us arent being chased by big cats but our genes are still programmed that way. The beast chasing us today is chronic stress, the long-term daily grind, and constant exposure and unavoidable stress unlike the Tigers minutes of acute intense stress.
Each time, regardless of the trigger we release neurotransmitters (such as noradrenaline) and hormones (in particular cortisol) that catalyse a series of events that help us deal with the challenge. Cortisol is a very interesting hormone as it helps with the survival response through various mechanisms like increasing blood sugar and blocking relaxation and sleepy chemicals but then it has a negative feedback effect, letting the body know that you had a stress response and can now switch off and relax.
Problem is with modern life there is constantly one form of trigger or another so there is a constant stimulus to pump out these stress chemicals. Chronic exposure to a powerful hormone like cortisol can change you.
Yet here we are with the mortgage, stressful job and even environmental stress we simply cant escape. We just have to manage these unavoidable stressors better.
The hormonal fluctuations
To fully understand how to influence hormonal secretions and activities we must first understand the big picture and know the natural cycles that dictate our bodys priorities between thrive or survive. The Hypothalamus in our brain collects data from our body to inform of potential stressors. Our body cant afford to wait and see if something is life-threatening before it reacts, therefore it will trigger a stress response, proactively, just in case. The immune system, inflammatory chemicals, emotional stress, fear, pain, temperature extremes, toxicity, training hard, caffeine etc. will all activate the Hypothalamus to initiate a survival response. The end result is that the hypothalamus sends this stress message to our pituitary gland, which then signals the adrenals to pump out cortisol. This, of course, is a natural response but too much cortisol is very bad for our health.
Cortisol has a number of jobs to do to aid in short term and long-term survival:
- In the short term, cortisol helps to raise blood sugar by gluconeogenesis and insulin resistance. It achieves this by breaking down muscle tissue.
- It also switches off most of the internal stress activators if they have been temporarily spiked by a low dose trigger like a microorganism or an allergen.
- Cortisol switches off the activated immune system and stops the reaction.
- Cortisol switches off the inflammatory response (by the way, cortisone and hydrocortisone creams for arthritis, asthma and allergic reactions are drug versions of cortisol).
- Cortisol blocks the sleepy chemical serotonin and wakes you up (good if the tiger is chasing you, bad if you want to go to sleep).
- Cortisol raises blood pressure and blood volume through fluid retention in case of injury. But bad if you want a toned body!
The herbs all of which are found in the Cort-RX
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Take Home Message
If you feel you have cortisol dysregulation, try to reduce the stressors in your life. Easier said than done right? If you can‚Äôt spend your days on the beach, you need to strengthen your resistance to the damaging effects of either low or high cortisol level.