What You Really Must Know About Stress (3 of 3)

You feel the ‘adrenaline rush’ of energy and excitement when you are stretched to face a challenge. But did you know that the same adrenaline in excess can also be addictive and harmful? Let’s explore the connection between adrenaline, stress and illness.

Stress: The ‘inside’ story

Under stress, what happens inside us is that our body responds through the “flight, fight or freeze” response, triggered by the stress hormone: adrenaline. As long as adrenaline stays in our blood-stream, it creates a series of changes in the body’s function.

Adrenaline has its purpose

In this video clip by Discovery Education, a police officer confronted with a raging fire surge, and demonstrates how and why adrenaline is useful to us.


‘Stressful Vs. Restful’ response

Deepak Chopra vividly describes and compares  of how our body reacts physiologically under these different situations.

The ‘Stressful’ response kicks in during a ‘fight-flight-freeze’ situation, such as conflict or competition.

  • Our heart beats faster and blood rushes to the body’s extremities – palms, feet, face, etc.
  • We breathe faster, shallower and sometimes even hyper-ventilate
  • Our blood pressure and temperature rise
  • We break into a sweat
  • Our adrenaline, noradrenalin and cortisol (stress hormones) levels rise
  • Our glucagon levels rise and insulin levels fall which lead to an increase in blood sugar
  • We produce lower sex-hormones
  • Our overall immunity decreases

Distress means being “awash in Adrenaline”

In modern life, even though our circumstances have changed and we’re not faced with forest predators or tribal marauders any more, this primitive mechanism remains: our bodies still produce the same stress hormones in response to threat (or perceived threat).

The main difference is that instead of using them for survival, we have started using them for success. This is a very important distinction. Our continuous drive for never-ending success alters the physiological equation fundamentally. Instead of using the stress response only when required, many of us are living in a constantly adrenalized state. As a result

• Our energy is drained and diverted from other important bodily functions like digestion
• We don’t sleep well, so the body doesn’t have enough time for rest and repair
• We cannot focus or concentrate, so our productivity suffers
• We experience unstable moods, so we are unable to maintain a consistent perspective
• Most importantly, our immunity is compromised, so we are more vulnerable to illness

To make the situation worse, these stress hormones are addictive. We get accustomed to the ‘buzz’ and begin enjoying it so much that we don’t want it to stop. So we wind ourselves up more and more, not realizing that an internal breakdown is taking place, silently. Over-adrenalisation can cause chronic fatigue, cardio-vascular risk, anxiety disorders and depression.

The good news

Fortunately, nature’s exquisite design even provides us with countering mechanism to the stress response. Alongside the stress hormones, our bodies also produce ‘feel-good’ hormones called endorphins: serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin, etc. which can neutralize and balance stress hormones.

The restful response is what we experience when our ‘feel-good’ hormones take over

  • The heart rate slows down
  • We breathe deeply and steadily
  • Blood pressure and body temperature stabilises
  • DHEA (De-hydro-epi-androsterone) from adrenal glands and sex-hormone levels rise
  • Anti-aging hormone (hGH) secretion from the pituitary gland rises
  • Our overall immunity increases

Even small changes in our lifestyle and habits can have a dramatic positive impact on the adrenaline-endorphin balance, significantly improving our coping resources and thereby reversing the stress spiral.

Reflection

  • How often do you feel that adrenaline rush? In what situations does it typically kick in?
  • What activities or situations make you happy and relaxed? How can you incorporate more of such activities in your daily life?

More from this series

Title About the article
Part 1 We hear and read about stress everyday. Many of us experience stress in our lives so often. We are all better educated, more affluent and have access to more comforts than our parents and grandparents, yet we find ourselves running faster than ever before to keep up with the demands on our lives.
Part 2 In his book ‘Immune Power Personality’, author Henry Dreher says “When our coping strategies falter and we are flooded with feelings of distress, our immune system is also flooded – with too much, too little, or the wrong kinds of messenger molecules. Once the immune system receives inappropriate messages, it can malfunction, setting the stage for disease.
Part 3 Under stress, what happens inside us is that our body responds through the “flight, fight or freeze” response, triggered by the stress hormone: adrenaline. As long as adrenaline stays in our blood-stream, it creates a series of changes in the body’s function.

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