Stress is the body’s natural reaction to protect against perceived threats, danger, or pressures from daily life that cause anguish or feelings of angst. As individuals, stress is encountered differently from person to person, and levels of stress can be contributed by circumstances such as genetic make-up, social, economic, or environmental issues.
When stress is experienced, our brain reacts quickly and triggers a flight-or-fight response. This releases stress hormones throughout the body to defend it against perceived threats.
When hormones are released due to stress, what do they do, and which subsequent reactions do they produce within the body?
When flight-or-fight situations occur, an area of the brain called the amygdala sends distress signals to the hypothalamus, another part of the brain that communicates with the rest of the body through the central nervous system, sending signals to the adrenal glands just above the kidneys. This function pumps hormones throughout the body to protect and support those areas which may be under pressure. (1)
These hormones each have a particular function essential to protect and maintain good health.
- Adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, is responsible for the immediate reaction after feelings of stress. It increases heart rate, elevates blood pressure, and boosts energy supplies. Adrenaline increases the flow of sugar (glucose) into the bloodstream. This makes the body alert and increases the ability to deal with difficult or challenging situations.
Too much adrenaline can also be problematic and may cause high blood pressure, palpitations, rapid heartbeat, issues with sleep, digestion, or feelings of relaxation. (2)
- Cortisol. One of the main hormones of stress, cortisol regulates blood pressure, and controls blood sugar levels. It also regulates the body’s metabolism and immune system, maintaining health and wellness. If the body produces too much cortisol, the immune system can be suppressed. Increased blood pressure and sugar production can contribute to health issues such as obesity, and may lead to the onset of diabetes. (3)
- Norepinephrine. A hormone very similar to adrenaline, norepinephrine, is released from the adrenal glands and the brain and helps move blood away from areas of the body such as skin towards crucial areas like muscles and other organs which may need to work harder during stressful episodes.
Hormonal Changes During Stress
Various other hormones can be affected by stress and may lead to several health conditions.
- Insulin. Although not produced as a direct result of stress, insulin may decrease when stress occurs. This can contribute to stress-induced High blood sugar (4)
- Growth Hormone. During acute physical stress, growth hormone can increase tenfold and lead to increased fat burning and muscle mass production. .
- Estrogen. Long-term stress can see an increase in conditions such as weight problems and high blood pressure, which may lead to an imbalance of estrogen which can lead to a myriad of symptoms. (6)
- Testosterone. Chronic, or ongoing stress can lower testosterone levels and may result in a decline in sex drive or libido, and can even cause impotence. (7)
Reducing Risk And Creating Change
Stress is a fact of life and research has shown that low to moderate stress can be beneficial. Acute, higher, or prolonged periods can result in an imbalance to our equilibrium, causing a variety of health problems. (8)
While it is impossible to eliminate stress, you can minimize risk by introducing lifestyle changes. Learning to identify what triggers stress, and creating a management strategy for wellbeing, can reap the rewards of a healthy life.
- Regular physical activity can lead to a thriving mind and body. During exercise, the body releases chemical endorphins creating a feel-good effect. This can act as stress and pain relief. Studies have shown exercise can fight against depression – one of the main symptoms of chronic stress. (9)
- Eating a healthy, nutrient-packed diet can help reduce the risk of diet-related illness and obesity. Clinical trials have revealed the benefits of a Mediterranean diet; rich in inflammatory-reducing, antioxidant, and anti-aging properties. (10)
- Have a cup of tea. L-Theanine is an amino acid found in green tea. Some studies have found promising results of L-Theanine and published data suggests that L-theanine administered at daily doses ranging from 200 to 400 mg for up to 8 weeks may induce anti-stress effects. (11)
- Supplements are used as an aid to nutrients in your diet, or to lower your risk of health problems. They come in the form of pills, capsules, powders, gel tabs, extracts, or liquids. Be Serene is a supplement used to reduce anxiousness and nervousness and lower your reactivity to stress. Made with 100% natural ingredients such as Mulungu, Holy Basil, Scisandra, Shatavari, and Rehmannia, Be Serene is designed to relieve anxiety quickly and work with your body and brain to restore your natural state of calm. The high potent ingredients help regulate adrenal hormones like cortisol and adrenaline and can improve your resilience to stress.
- Sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep is essential to a healthy lifestyle. Stress is a major cause of disrupted sleep and insomnia. The National Sleep Foundation recommends an adult should sleep between 7-9 hours per day. (12)
- Meditation and relaxation. Some studies have shown meditation and yoga have small to moderate effects on levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, and can increase endorphin levels. (13) Other relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and Tai Chi may also help by creating feelings of calm and relaxation.
- Volunteering within your local animal shelter can be an excellent stress reliever. Interacting with animals may reduce cortisol and lower blood pressure. (14)
- Friends and family. Maintaining a good social circle is essential in creating a positive support system.
- Maintain a positive outlook on life. Try to look at every obstacle you encounter as a learning experience.
The successful management of stress relief can lead to a significant boost in health and wellbeing. However, should chronic or continued bouts of stress continue, along with feelings of being overwhelmed, do not be afraid to consult your doctor who will be able to advise about treatment.