“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” – William James
I wish to outline the physiological implications of stress on the body in this blog piece. It should be noted that repeated exposure to stress can be debilitating over prolonged periods. If we wish to mitigate against this, one must be vigilant in their efforts to control their stressors.
As you may know the brain thrives as the regulatory centre for physiological processes. Many of the body’s mechanisms to deal with stress are activated within certain centres of the brain such as the hypothalamus. This is known as the regulator and communicator to other brain networks. When the hypothalamus is activated via a stress response it pours out the molecule CRH (corticotrophin-releasing hormone) into the blood vessels surrounding the pituitary gland.
This causes the pituitary to produce ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) which stimulates cells in the adrenal glands to make still a third hormone, cortisol. If you were to measure the stress hormone in the blood or saliva, there would be a marked increase within three minutes of the stress-related event. Therefore, the hormonal and nervous systems work quickly under such a demand placed on it. Conversely, it may take days for the immune system to realize the stress at a cellular level.
Cortisol is a stress hormone secreted by the adrenal glands. These are kidney shaped glands which rest on top of the kidneys. Cortisol can have a wide ranging effect on disease within the body if left unchecked. The body and brain can become skilled at learning stress-related responses in a feedback loop mechanism. They key to overcoming stress, is to interrupt the signal the brain receives before it is felt by the immune system.
Cortisol can act in many other ways to damage cells within the body. It can contribute to unwanted energy stores at certain landmarks of the body. Since we don’t always have a lot of glucose floating around, cortisol tends to stockpile energy. It converts approximately 58% of excess protein into glycogen and stores it as fat. If the stress is chronic, the increased body fat is stored around the abdomen. This is why many people have a stockpile of fat around their abdomen, given that cortisol is working to store energy.
There are three main networks within the immune system which include the thymus, lymphatic system and spleen. All of these work together in harmony to draw balance to immune function by regulating possible invaders. Via repeated exposure to cortisol, the thymus gland, located behind the breast bone shrinks over time. This immune organ is considered one of the important networks of the immune system owing to its regulatory function.
Stress may also show up in other tissues within the body. For example, it only takes one stray thought about the possibility of a stressor in our future to change the degree of acidity in our stomach’s secretions. The acid content in our stomach is regulated by pepsin and hydrochloric acid which are essential enzymes important in the breakdown of food entering the stomach. As we age, the acid content becomes less able to breakdown starch (carbohydrates) and protein. At this stage, taking digestive enzymes to assist the assimilation of food becomes essential.
“Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.” – Hans Selye
The gut is one of the most essential organs for the assimilation of thoughts and emotions. Apart from the skin, the gut is the major site of internal conflict arising from toxic emotions. Intolerable feelings that cannot be expressed, or even consciously thought, become internalised and find expression in the digestive system. Subsequently, the wish to give and receive will have as its accompaniment the activity of the upper intestinal tract, since this deals with the first intake of food.
Conversely, constipation is energetically viewed at the inability to assimilate the flow of life. One’s thoughts become stuck in the past, thus restricting the flow of life through the body. As a consequence, the bowels constrict by holding onto the contents as though the individual were holding onto the past. This is known as identification and may lead to digestive related issues if not resolved.
Repeated stress places tremendous strain on the organs of the body. They begin to manufacture and release hormones and molecules in order to deal with the demand of the stressor placed on them. Over time, the organ may lose its ability to perform this role efficiently, leading to a catabolic state of tissue and organ breakdown. Diabetes is one such disease which manifests as a result of sugar demands placed on it via the pancreas. When it is unable to process the cocktail of sugar and stress in the form of caffeine and alcohol, it subsequently loses its normal function as a regulator of insulin production.
Stress can lead to sleep disorders, especially for those who are prone to repeated stress as it elevates cortisol levels at night right before bed. There is often a correlation between stress and the intake of stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol. One effect of the caffeine in your coffee is to stimulate the release of hypothalamic CRH (corticotropin-releasing hormone) – in other words, it gives your stress hormones a jolt. Alcohol will also have the same effects on the body as caffeine.
The underlying mechanism implies the body is already stressed via repeated stressful external stimuli. The mind and body are doing their best to offset the stress by coping and dealing with the influx of chemicals and hormones released into blood, tissue and organs. Taking stimulants which recreate yet another stress response, only adds to the stressors within. It’s any wonder that the subsequent result is a shutdown of organs and withdrawal of normal, healthy function.
If you’re one of those people who have identified with this article, begin by removing known stressors from your immediate surrounding. If you have been following my posts, you will have noted I outlined removing ideas, thoughts and beliefs which do not serve your personal growth.
Health and healing are intertwined. Examine the stressors in your life with a view to gradually remove them or at best attend to them. If you consciously seek health and wellness, make a decision to let go of those behaviours, habits and foods that are not serving your highest potential.
Health and wellbeing await you on the other side.