Your Body Under Pressure
An excerpt from The Science of Stress by Jon Spayed from Experience Life
Here’s what happens to our organs and biochemistry when we’re stressed out . . .
The stress response begins above your shoulders. The amygdala (a cluster of cell nuclei inside the temporal lobe that processes emotional data) sends a threat message to the hypothalamus, which in turn tells the sympathetic nervous system to protect you from attack. The nervous system increases heart rate, constricts some blood vessels and dilates others, slows down the intestines, inhibits digestive secretions, and prompts glands to flood the system with cortisol.
If this alarm is set off too often, it can do serious physical damage. “When too much cortisol is hitting the brain for an elevated amount of time,” Lucille says, “you start to create something called hippocampal brain damage, and the results of this are disturbed circadian rhythms: Your sleep-wake cycle is disturbed. You get moody, and you get memory loss, brain fog.”
The Pituitary Gland
Sometimes called the “master gland,” the pituitary controls most of the other glands in the body, regulating a host of functions including body temperature, thyroid activity and urine production (hence those sweaty palms and frequent bathroom trips when you’re nervous). During the stress response, the pituitary produces adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which prompts the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. Cortisol increases arterial blood pressure, pulling glucose and fat from body tissues into the bloodstream for energy, one reason appetite diminishes during acute stress.
The pituitary gland also releases thyroid-stimulating hormone, which stimulates the thyroid gland to produce thyroxine. Thyroxine increases the metabolic rate, raises blood-sugar levels, and increases respiration, heart rate and blood pressure — all essential to a quick burst of activity. But the metabolic boost from thyroxine uses up nutrients too quickly, so the body overuses B vitamins and excretes calming magnesium.
Blood vessels constrict during the stress response, which makes it harder for the heart to pump blood. High blood pressure from constricted vessels and increased cortisol and thyroxine only exacerbates inflammation and arterial plaque buildup.
Additionally, fatty acids released into the bloodstream by cortisol can lead to overproduction of low-density cholesterol (LDL).
High-density cholesterol, or HDL, actually helps keep the circulatory system functioning and has powerful healing value. But, notes Lee, the so-called bad version, LDL, contributes to dangerous plaque buildup on arterial walls that have been inflamed by toxins and high blood sugar — common byproducts of stress eating. And all this sets the stage for cardiac arrest, says Lee.
The Adrenal Glands
Upon detecting a threat, the hypothalamus signals the adrenal medulla (an autonomic-nervous-system node next to the adrenal glands) to secrete two hormones — adrenaline and noradrenaline — into the bloodstream. These increase heart rate and blood pressure. Blood is pumped to extremities and their muscles to help you run or go into battle, while gastrointestinal activity is reduced, producing the feeling of butterflies in the stomach. When this complex process is repeated routinely with no time for recuperation, you start to feel both lethargic and wound up — tired but wired.
Chronic stress also wears out the adrenal glands by overusing their store of energizing adrenaline. According to Lee, this can lead to a condition that integrative and naturopathic doctors identify as “adrenal fatigue,” which can manifest as exhaustion, physical weakness, immune suppression, hormone imbalances, skin problems and depression.
Stomach and Intestines
The slowdown of the digestive process triggered by the sympathetic nervous system and the thyroid can prompt either overproduction or underproduction of digestive acids. Overproduction can lead to painful acid reflux (heartburn), while underproduction means your stomach has limited digestive power. Too little stomach acid can leave food in the system so long that it ferments rather than digests. This can produce bloating, create inflammation of the intestinal tissue and reduce the overall absorption of nutrients.
“If your bowel’s inflamed,” says Emmons, “you’re not getting nutrients out of the food you eat. You can eat really great food but still not benefit from it.”
A Note from M.I.C.
For more information on how stress effects the body or so see full sources, go to the full article down below. To learn more about how we can combat this stress in our day-to-day lives, head over to our Mindful Challenges page.
The Science of Stress
BY JON SPAYDE AT EXPERIENCE LIFE
Spayde, Jon. "The Science of Stress." Experience Life. 28 May 2019. 16 Sept. 2019 <https://experiencelife.com/article/the-science-of-stress/>.
Rachel Wixey & Associates
The first step to combating stress is to understand its effects at the most basic level: physical. To understand what is going on inside our body while experience stress, is to help manage and overcome our reactions to what is going on outside of it.