The stress response is part of the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). The three phases to the GAS are alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. These phases are controlled and regulated by the adrenal glands. The alarm response is often referred to as the “fight or flight”. This causes the adrenals to secrete adrenalin and other stress related hormones. The alarm phase is usually short lived. The resistance reaction allows the body to continue fighting a stressor long after the effects of the “fight or flight” have worn off. The adrenal glands secrete cortisol and other hormones. A prolongation of the resistance reaction or continued stress results in exhaustion. Exhaustion may be a partial or total collapse of a body function or organ. Prolonged stress affects many organ systems including the heart, blood vessels, adrenal glands, and immune system. There are numerous diseases strongly associated with stress. These include angina, asthma, autoimmune disease, cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, PMS, ulcers, and immune suppression.
Many individuals that are “stressed out” may not be able to identify what is causing them stress. Rather, they will present with symptoms including insomnia, depression, fatigue, headaches, digestive issues and more.
Stress management can be encouraged by managing lifestyle factors, exercise, eating a nourishing diet, practicing techniques to help calm the mind and promote a positive mental outlook, and taking supplements to support the body. The immediate effect of exercise is stress on the body, however, with a regular exercise program, the body becomes stronger and achieves greater endurance. Individuals who exercise regularly are less likely to suffer from fatigue and depression.
For optimal stress management, dietary recommendations include a reduction or restriction of caffeine and alcohol. Alcohol causes chemical stress on the body and increases adrenal hormone output. Many individuals believe that alcohol has a calming effect, however, studies have shown that alcohol significantly increased anxiety as measured in anxiety questionnaires. Elimination of refined carbohydrates from the diet helps to balance blood sugar and to decrease hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Many patients experiencing depression, anxiety or other psychological issues are also hypoglycemic. Mealtimes should occur in a relaxed environment. How many of us are guilty of eating at our desks in front of our computers while at work? Digestion is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system (the opposite of fight or flight) and to encourage proper digestion we should eat in a relaxed environment.
Identifying if stress is affecting your health is half the battle. Consider seeing a naturopathic doctor and psychotherapist to help manage your stress response.
Alene Falomo ND
_The information above is intended for informational purposes only. Always consult with your health care provider if this is suitable for you. _