Chronic Stress: The Body Keeps the Score
In this issue of our wellness series with Dr. Jennifer Bourgeois, the article will look at the physiological effects of stress and how it impacts our health.
Once the body perceives an event as a stressor, physiological changes begin to happen immediately.
The Central Nervous System (CNS) activates the Sympathetic division, which stimulates the adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones increase heart rate and cause the blood vessels to constrict which increases blood pressure. During the stress response the breathing rate increases to distribute oxygen-rich blood throughout the body.
Under stress the liver releases more glucose and insulin levels decrease in an effort to keep more glucose in the bloodstream. Blood flow is rushed to main organs and away from the digestive system. This slows digestion and can directly affect nutrient absorption. The stress hormones can also increase stomach acid production.
Under stress, the muscles tense up and may remain contracted for long periods. Cortisol can inhibit Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) leading to partial suppression of the main thyroid hormone, thyroxine. The stress hormones can cause irregular menstrual cycles, decrease libido, and weaken the immune system’s defenses.
The most common signs and symptoms of stress are directly related to these physiological changes and include worry, anxiety, moodiness, irritability, depression, eating more/less, alcohol or drug abuse, infections, insomnia, fatigue, GI changes, dizziness, and headaches.
Repeated exposure to stress for chronic periods causes imbalances and dysregulation in the body that eventually lead to disease and illness. Dr Mark Hyman states “90% of all disease and illness are rooted in stress”.