Stress is: ‘A natural physical and mental reaction to both good and bad experiences that can be beneficial to our health and safety’.
Our bodies respond to stress by releasing hormones and increasing both our heart and breathing rates. Our brain gets more oxygen, allowing us to make decisions rapidly. In the short term, stress can be a good thing and can help us perform when we are in a tough situation. However, if the stress is prolonged then it can have a significant effect on our entire wellbeing.
Central Nervous and Endocrine System
Your central nervous system (CNS) is in charge of your “fight or flight” response. The CNS instantly tells the rest of your body what to do, marshalling all resources to the cause. In the brain, the hypothalamus tells your adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol.
When the perceived fear is gone, the CNS should tell all systems to go back to normal. It has done its job. If the CNS fails to return to normal, or if the stressor doesn’t go away, it takes a toll on your body. Potentially effecting all of the systems in the body, from increased heart rate, rapid breathing, slowing down digestion, impacting sleep, muscular and joint pain to name but a few. It also has a very big impact on our endocrine system, potentially further decreasing the likely hood of conception
Cortisol – The enemy
Normal cortisol production:
- Stimulates liver to convert amino acids into glucose (energy)
- Counters allergies and inflammation
- Helps regulate mood and maintain emotional stability
- Stimulates increased production of glycogen in the liver for storage of glucose
- Maintains resistance to the stress of infections, physical & emotional trauma & temperature extremes
- Mobilises and increases fatty acids in the blood to be used as fuel for energy production
Excess cortisol production:
- Leads to diminished glucose utilisation by the cells and increases blood sugar
- Decreases the body’s ability to synthesise protein
- Increases protein breakdown, leading to muscle wasting and osteoporosis
- Suppresses the sex hormones
- Increases risk of hypertension, high cholesterol and heart disease
- Has an impact on the brain and memory – excess will shrink the hippocampus (memory centre)
- Impairs other hormone action, such as insulin, leading to insulin resistance and the typical weight gain around the waist
- Causes immune system depression (allergies, infections)
- If elevated during the night can result in sleep disturbances, hot flushes and night sweats (even with normal oestrogen levels).
- Depletes progesterone levels as the body requires progesterone to make cortisol.