We have all heard about how stress can have a major impact on our overall health and well being, but do we really know the ins and outs as to why? Why does stress cause us to feel exhaustion? Why does it lower our immune system? Why can it cause health problems down the road?

In this article we will have a brief but in depth look at how the body creates a stress response at a cellular level, why it does, and how this can impact the body short term and long term.

When we think of stress, we have to first think of our body like a super hypersensitive thermostat and alarm system all in one. The body has a set program and is conditioned to maintain a balance and regulation of that program.  A stressor to the body would be an influence either externally (a cold or flu for example) or from within (or an injury or emotional stressor) that would start to change the thermostat or program on the inside – sounding alarm bells to the body.

Now a lot of the time our body will interpret and handle these stressors behind the scenes with a few symptoms of tension or fatigue afterwards. Our body has an automatic response and our “fight or flight” response engages. What happens to the body on a cellular level in this response first is a realization of the stress.

 Our nervous system is like our body’s alarm system. It tells our hypothalamus in our brain to send out the word for our body to respond. Our adrenals, which are little pyramid shaped organs on top of our kidneys, release a temporary burst of hormones to change the process in our body to an alert response.  This then causes a shift of blood concentration from organs that can make do without the blood temporarily and sends it to the parts needed to run – the heart, our lungs, our muscles, our nerves and senses. This all needs to be a quick, lightning fast response so our body will start converting reserved sugars, breaking it down to energy to maintain this high alert. 

Stress curve and phases 5

This is known as the “Alarm” stage of stress and it’s the body’s amazing natural defence against things that may harm us. The body should then have time to be calm, to recharge, and put reserve energy away for the next response when needed. Sometimes, however, depending on the type of stress and how often we are dealing with it our body can at times not have the ability to rest and recharge. This is when stress starts to become more chronic and we shift into the “resistance” stress stage and finally the “exhaustion” stress stage. Imagine the body like an air conditioner that is always going non stop; eventually it will overheat and may even break down. This is what happens to our body when it undergoes long term stress.

Think of all of those changes from our nervous system, to our hormones, to our organs and blood vessels going nonstop. Our organs will hit a wall just like we do, and when they slow their function or change their function to try and cope, it then becomes a domino effect on other processes of the body. If these stresses aren’t adjusted and the body isn’t given time to rest, these small changes can lead to bigger and more advanced health problems down the line like heart disease, anxiety, depression, a lowered immune system and metabolism, and more.

The human function curve 4.1

The good thing is that there is something we can do about it, now – in this moment.  Small things like taking a walk, or doing yoga, having tea or listening to meditations can reduce your stressors. It may not seem like much and you may even feel like you don’t have time, but to your body it can mean the difference between recovery or exhaustion. It’s important to make time to recover and to let your body help you. Be proactive, be preventative, and be your body’s best defender. Your body can handle it, can you?