The unseen culprit: chronic stress
The widespread and chronic nature of stress means that we’re often unable to recognize both its onset and the profound effects it has on our wellbeing. Work overload, injury, infection, disease, surgery and even the scramble to keep up with day-to-day living, are all major stressors.
When in this state, the body’s stress response system (the sympathetic nervous system) shifts into high gear. Blood flow to the organs involved in digestion become restricted, the immune system is weakened, natural sleep patterns are disrupted, and a general feeling of anxiety can take over.
The stress cycle self-perpetuates
When stress becomes chronic, it begins to feed itself – leaving no opportunity for the body’s restoration system (the parasympathetic nervous system) to take over when needed. Uncomfortable tensions or restrictions in our body tissues and muscles begin to develop as a result of this imbalance. At this stage, stress begins to affect our functioning: sleep, ease of mobility and overall health becomes compromised, paving the way for degenerative disease.
Stress & adrenals
Chronic stress also affects our energy and mood because of its relationship with our adrenal glands. Adrenal glands are two tiny pieces of tissue located right above each kidney. Their job is to produce and release, when appropriate, certain regulatory hormones and chemical messengers.
Adrenaline is manufactured in the interior of the adrenal gland. Cortisol, the other chemical related to the adrenal gland, is made in the exterior portion of the gland. Cortisol and adrenaline are released to help our ability to handle stress situations.
When the stress cycle is unable to ‘shut off’ however, the body overproduces these and other stress hormones, weakening our adrenal glands, further compromising our ability to handle stress. This frequently leads to impairment in the thyroid gland, causing a decline in energy levels and mood.
Stress & disease
There are numerous emotional and physical disorders that have been linked to stress including depression, anxiety, heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, immune system disturbances that increase susceptibility to infections, a host of viral linked disorders ranging from the common cold to certain cancers, as well as autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
In addition, stress can have direct effects on the skin (rashes, hives, atopic dermatitis, the gastrointestinal system (GERD, peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis) and can contribute to insomnia and degenerative neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease.