Stress is a normal part of everyday life and our body’s are equipped to manage it. Some of our hormones are stress reactors and affect how we deal with stressful situations. ‘Normal’ stress keeps us alert and motivated, ready to escape from potentially dangerous situations – you will have felt those triggers as an elevated heart rate and a need for ‘fight or flight’. But when we are exposed to stressful situations for a long period of time, our stress hormones can remain elevated and that can be detrimental to our physical, mental and emotional state. This then becomes chronic stress.
What are Stress Hormones?
The main stress hormones are adrenaline and cortisol. They prepare our bodies to deal with the stressful situation at hand.
- Adrenaline – the ‘fight or flight’ hormone which raises your heart rate and blood pressure and causes a surge in energy supplies. It prepares you to run away from danger. Adrenaline is produced by the adrenal glands after the brain registers the dangerous situation and is responsible for the reactions we get as soon as we encounter danger.
- Cortisol – this is a steroid hormone released to equip the body with enough resources to concentrate on and deal with the situation at hand. Energy is diverted away from the non-essential survival functions, such as reproduction, the immune system and digestion, and more sugar is released into the bloodstream. Also produced by the adrenal glands, cortisol is released more slowly.
These reactions are perfectly normal, and the release of adrenaline and cortisol can be life-saving. But our bodies expect the hormone levels to recede once the danger has passed. If we are exposed to stressful situations over a long period of time, a constant release of adrenaline and cortisol can begin to have a negative effect on our physical health. For example, it could cause havoc if cortisol is diverting energy away from certain bodily functions.
What are the Physical Effects of Stress?
Chronic stress can manifest itself in many ways. Living in a constant state of stress means your body is steadily releasing cortisol. Too much cortisol can result in increased blood pressure and blood sugar and supressed immune and digestive systems. Weight gain, skin flare ups and a decreased libido can result. It can also cause heart disease, anxiety, depression and insomnia.
When your body is stressed, your muscles naturally contract and tense to protect themselves from injury – think how often your shoulders are hunched up when you are stressed at work. Once the stress passes, your muscles can start to relax. But if they’re not given this chance, if you are in a constant state of stress, your muscles remain tight. This can lead to headaches, neck, shoulder and back pain, clenched jaws and general body discomfort.
Chronic stress can have so many effects. On top of the physical signs, our emotional and mental health can suffer. Decision making abilities can be compromised, confidence levels can drop, relationships can break down… it really isn’t tenable to live with long-term or chronic stress. People who claim they thrive on stressful situations probably deal with each one individually, rather than living in a heightened state of chronic stress. And no two people deal with stress in the same way or can even predict what will trigger a stress response.
So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by any situation, and feel your stress is affecting how you live your life, then Jane Bliss Sorrell, our Transformational Coach and EFT Therapist can help. To find out more book an appointment with her at The Slade by calling 020 8316 5316.