What is Stress?

You might have heard a myriad of definitions/meanings of the word ‘Stress’. But what are we actually talking about when we discuss stress?

Normally, many of us use the word stress to direct the negative experiences of life that make us feel overwhelmed. Merely thinking about it gives us a false impression of its true nature.

However, stress is actually our body’s reaction to the changing and demanding environment around us. It is more about our capacity to deal with change than it is about feeling good or bad. Change is the only constant, they say. Changes happen all the time and stress is in large part what we feel when we are reacting to it. Thus, we can define it by saying that it is a series of emotional, physical and cognitive responses to a change. 

Stress Overload-

The most threatening thing about stress is it can easily creep up on you and you get used to it. Before you even start noticing, it starts affecting you. It starts to feel familiar, normal and eventually takes a heavy toll on your body in the form of what is called ‘Stress Overload’. Hence, it is very necessary to be conscious about the typical warning signs and symptoms of stress overload-

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory problems
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor judgment
  • Seeing only the negative
  • Anxious or racing thoughts
  • Constant worrying

Emotional symptoms:

  • Depression or general unhappiness
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Moodiness, irritability, or anger
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Other mental or emotional health problems

Physical symptoms:

  • Aches and pains
  • Diarrhoea or constipation
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Chest pain, rapid heart rate
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Frequent colds or flu

Behavioural symptoms:

  • Eating more or less
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
  • Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting)

What are the causes of Stress? Answer- ‘The Stressors’

The situations and pressures that can cause stress are known as Stressors. Scientists at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress (CSHS) classify stress into the following 4 categories-

Physiological (or physical) stressors

These are stressors that put strain on our body (i.e.: very cold/hot temperatures, injury, deficiencies, toxins, pathogens, dysfunctional organs or pain).

Psychological Stressors

These are events, situations, individuals, comments, or anything we interpret as negative or threatening (i.e. : inability to accept uncertainty, rigid thinking and lack of flexibility, negative self-talk, all-or-nothing attitude).

Absolute Stressors

These are stressors that everyone exposed to them would interpret as being stressful. These are objective stressors that are universal (i.e.: earthquakes, a tsunami).

Relative Stressors

These are stressors that only some exposed to them would interpret as being stressful. These are subjective stressors that cause different reactions in different people (i.e.: time pressure at work, traffic, paying taxes, writing an exam).

Briefly said, a stressor is anything that causes the release of stress hormones. 

We’ve seen this stress in every case we’ve worked with- a constant, underlying primordial fear based response to the environment around us. 

How does it impact your health though?

Stress is a complex phenomenon and each individual has his/her own level of stress tolerance.

Exposure to stressors results in a series of coordinated responses often referred to as ‘stress responses’ which are composed of series of reactions in the body including alterations in behaviour, autonomic function, secretion of multiple hormones and various physiological changes in the body. (See images)

*Amygdala- It is the integrative center for emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation inside the brain.

*Hypothalamus- It is a small region at the base of the brain that is responsible for releasing hormones, regulating body temperature, maintaining daily physiological cycles, controlling appetite, managing sexual behavior and regulating emotional responses.

*Adrenal gland- Adrenal glands are composed of two parts(the cortex and the medulla) each responsible for producing different hormones that help regulate metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, response to stress and other essential functions. 

*CRH-Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) is a peptide hormone involved in the stress response. Its main function is the stimulation of the pituitary synthesis of ACTH, as part of the HPA Axis. 

*ACTH- Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is made in the pituitary gland and  is needed for adrenal glands to work properly and help the body react to stress. ACTH stimulates the release of another hormone called cortisol from the adrenal gland.

*Adrenaline- Released by the adrenal glands in response to stress,  it works by increasing the heart rate, increasing blood pressure, expanding the air passages of the lungs, enlarging the pupil in the eye, redistributing blood to the muscles and altering the body’s metabolism, so as to maximise blood glucose levels.

 *HPA axis- It is short for hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. The HPA axis is a term used to represent the interaction between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands It is the body’s second component of the stress response system.

Effects of long-term stress

The body’s stress-response system is usually self-limiting. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems perform their regular activities.

However, long-term or chronic stress is challenging. Under constant stress, the body does not receive a clear signal to go back to its normal functioning.

Over time, continued strain on your body from stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, including mental disorders such as depression or anxiety.

How to cope up with this stress?

Stress is a fact of life, wherever you are and whatever you are doing. You cannot avoid stress, but you can learn to manage it so it doesn’t manage you. 

When you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress. Rethink your stress response to stress as something helpful. 

A study revealed that stress makes you social. The hormone Oxytocin is released that fine tunes your brain’s social instincts. Oxytocin is a natural anti-inflammatory and helps in healing your heart from the stress induced damage. 

Moreover, our body has a built-in stress resilience mechanism known as Human Connection. When you reach out to others under stress, you release more oxytocin and your response to stress becomes healthier and you recover faster from it.

At Thrive’s here’s what we do to help people perceive  and respond to stress better

  1. Fixing your deficiencies of nutrients essential for your adrenal glands to function well.

During a stressful event, your adrenals are overworked and are constantly pushed to release Adrenaline and cortisol along with other hormones.

Some specific nutrients like complex carbohydrates, proteins (tryptophan, phenylalanine and tyrosine, theanine) Vitamin C, Vitamin B, Magnesium, and Selenium play a very important role in reducing the levels of cortisol and adrenaline in the body and also the stress chemicals that activate fight and flight response(6). 

These nutrients play a very specific and important role in stress management. Hence, fixing the deficiencies of these nutrients is an essential step towards ensuring an optimal adrenal health.

  1. Bringing down both pathogen and toxin load from your body

Toxins and photogenic load as physiological stressors in the body can cause hormonal imbalances,  improper functioning of your enzymes, displacement of structural minerals, and can damage your organs(7). It is very important to look for these toxins and pathogens and flush them out of your body.

  1. Incorporating adrenal healing protocol

Chronic stress and adrenal dysfunction floods our body with excess adrenaline, which eventually begins to impact other organ systems. Our adrenal healing protocol is designed to give your body the right mix of glucose and mineral salts your adrenals need for optimum function. 

  1. Correcting organ dysfunctions

Stress brings about physiological changes almost throughout the body. All your organs strive to cope up with the stress. Overtime, stress can cause some organs to not function properly. Hence, it becomes necessary to make sure that your organs are working to their fullest capacity.

  1. Meditation

Meditation helps you to calm down and focus your attention. It produces a deep state of relaxation and helps you to eliminate negative and jumbled thoughts, causing enhanced well-being. It primes you perceive and respond to stress better. 

  1. Learning to breathe

Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. This is because when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. It is impossible to be stressed and anxious while you are breathing deeply. 

  1. Finding your tribe

We as humans were meant to exist in a tribe, to work together towards the greater good of the tribe out of feelings of mutual love, trust and connectedness. In return, as a whole, the tribe always had your back. It’s the loss of this collective that makes everyone stay on their guard. 

The best way to resolve your stress though is by finding the root causes for the same which is  something we are exceptionally good at. If you’ve been struggling with stressful episodes, and would like to learn more about how we can help you.

Call us on +91 77966 92504 to learn more or click below for a free consultation

References:

  1. https://www.gulfbend.org/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=1229
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579396/
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/stress-hormonehttps://www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/stress-and-your-health
  4. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response
  5. https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-body
  6. https://www.longdom.org/open-access/nutrient-and-stress-management-2155-9600-1000528.pdf
  7. https://naturemed.org/how-toxins-cause-disease/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3079864/
  9. https://www.uakron.edu/armyrotc/MS1/14.pdf
  10. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-symptoms-signs-and-causes.htm
  11. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2255

About the Author

Ria Jain is a Nutritionist with a Master’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. She works as a Research Associate at Thrive Functional Nutrition Consulting. She firmly believes that a healthy outside starts from a healthy inside. She is constantly researching the subject and keeps the rest of us at Thrive updated with her latest findings in the field. Her articles on Thrive’s blog are an expression of her research findings.