Updated: Nov 14
In today's discussion, we're diving deep into the world of stress and its profound impact on our bodies. We'll explore how chronic stress can manifest physically and mentally, drawing from personal experiences and the treatment of countless clients in the clinic setting. It’s important to mention that chronic stress can greatly impact a person’s pain response to different scenarios. This is just one of the negative effects chronic stress can place on our bodies.
Join us on this journey to better comprehend the role of the autonomic nervous system in stress responses and, most importantly, discover strategies to cope with and overcome chronic stress.
The Autonomic Nervous System and Fight or Flight
To understand the effects of chronic stress, it's crucial to begin with a glance at the autonomic nervous system. This intricate system responds to stressful situations with the "fight or flight" mechanism. Imagine the urgency of running away from a bear or a tiger – this mental image alone is enough to trigger stress. But did you know that when faced with such danger, your body’s response to stress is the release of high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, to enable you to escape swiftly?
During this adrenaline-fueled escape, your body’s sympathetic nervous system reallocates resources, prioritizing the primary running muscles over functions like digestion. The goal is to provide you with as much energy as possible to survive the threat. Ideally, these elevated cortisol levels return to normal once the danger subsides, and your body resumes its usual functions. However, in reality, many individuals find themselves in a prolonged state of fight or flight.
Modern Stressors and Prolonged Cortisol Release
Today, various stressors trigger our fight or flight response, even if we're not running from predators. Stress can emanate from a stressful email, a major life change, or even a social media post. In recent times, we've collectively experienced one of the most challenging periods in recent history, resulting in persistent stress for many.
Remaining in “high alert,” or a prolonged state of fight or flight can wreak havoc on our bodies. Initially, the surge of cortisol can boost creativity, productivity, and energy. It's a natural response, but our bodies are not built to maintain these high stress levels for extended periods.
The Toll of Chronic Stress
Chronic stress can lead to various physical and mental health issues. It's not just about the size of your stress compared to someone else's; it's about how your body responds. High cortisol levels can cause changes in your breathing and lead to issues like insomnia, appetite changes, digestive problems, skin conditions, weight gain, and even cognitive changes like brain fog.
The correlation between stress and physical impairment, such as chronic pain, is well-documented. However, stress-related symptoms often don't appear on routine medical tests, which can leave individuals feeling dismissed or misunderstood.
Taking Control and Seeking Help
What can you do about chronic stress? Take a deep breath and show yourself some compassion. Accept that life is full of learning opportunities, and it's okay to seek help if you need it. Physicians, mental health providers, physical therapists, and other professionals are here to support your journey to healing.
Keep in mind that your body may resist the transition to a lower cortisol level, so develop strategies that work for you. Prioritize sleep, set boundaries, and be willing to say no when necessary. Getting your hormones tested can also be beneficial in maintaining balance.
In closing, understanding the impact of stress on your health is the first step towards taking control. We hope this discussion empowers you to recognize the signs of chronic stress and take proactive steps to restore balance in your life. If you'd like to check out the video associated with this blog post, click the link here!
If you’re looking to implement strategies to start managing stress now, check out my blog post here. Who knew simple practices such as deep breathing could reduce your stress levels and the physical symptoms you experience along with it?
If you’re interested in learning more about this topic or have questions, feel free to reach out to us at 502-939-8564 or request a consultation here.