There are many “faces” of stress as stress manifests differently depending on the individual, influencing many biological processes that begin in the brain and spread through nearly all body systems – including the adrenals, thyroid, neurotransmitter systems, digestive system, and heart. Consistent stress over long periods of time can become a serious threat to maintaining lifelong wellness as so much energy is channeled into coping, ultimately leading to exhaustion.
The Stress Response: A Coordinated Series of Events
Neurotransmitters (or chemical messengers) are released, triggering an increase in emotional response, and influencing memory, concentration, inhibition, and rational thought.
The adrenal glands pump out a group of hormones known as glucocorticoids – including the primary stress hormone cortisol – which marshal the heart, lungs, circulation, metabolism, and immune system.
The thyroid gland when imbalanced pumps out hormones that accelerate metabolism, producing symptoms such as occasional sleeplessness, nervousness, and exhaustion.
Sex hormone levels may be reduced with stress, thereby reducing libido and sexual function. Acute stress may also cause a woman’s menstrual cycle to be irregular.
Glucose metabolism may fluctuate with stress as the liver releases stores of glucose into the bloodstream and the pancreas decreases insulin secretion, increasing blood sugar levels for needed energy. This may cause weight loss is very high acute stress or weight gain in chronic low grade stress.
Heart rate increases during stress as the heart pumps more blood throughout the body.
Respiratory function may be altered with stress. In some individuals breathing rate increases.
The coordinated activities involved in digestion can be slowed down as energy is diverted in the stress response, possibly resulting in stomach discomforts. The small intestine slow down (constipation) and the colon speeds up (diarrhea) making stress one of the triggers and underlying causes for irritable bowel syndrome.
A naturopathic approach to treating someone seeing physiological symptoms of acute or chronic stress includes an in-depth inquiry as to how stress manifests in that particular individual. Although many time the individual cannot simply get rid of the stress, certain coping mechanisms can be taught in put in place to help the individual better respond to their stress. Adaptogenic herbs can be used to help nourish the adrenals glands, clinical nutrition can be used to best support neurotransmitter imbalances and insomnia, and botanical medicine and clinical nutrition can be used to put health back into the organ systems most affected by the stress.