You know about the dangers of chronic stress. Perhaps you have tried to calm your life, exercise more, and sleep more, but you are still showing symptoms of stress. So now what can you do?
Stress leaves marks on our lives that go back even to pre-birth! Through your life, the impacts of stress pile up, and you can’t simply erase them by force of will. In fact, attempting to do away with stress can become stressful in itself. We may even feel guilty about stress, when the marks of stress our bodies have recorded are not our fault. Let’s take a look at the stress mechanisms and see what is happening.
Cortisol — the stress hormone
Cortisol is a powerful hormone which is released especially during times of stress. In our stressed-out society, cortisol gets a bad name because it is being released too often, causing damage.
Cortisol is actually a wonderful hormone. It is anti-inflammatory, and our bodies secrete it especially in the morning to get us going — unless you are someone with adrenal exhaustion, where you need stimulants just to get moving for the day. Cortisol maintains blood sugar levels and steers energy to the brain and muscles. When a legitimate stressor appears, cortisol levels surge, giving us a “fight or flight” response to the stressor. With cortisol, we have energy to tackle tough mental and physical challenges.
But these benefits come at a cost: we require rest to recharge from the effects of daily activity. If cortisol is still actively being released, we can’t relax properly, and our recharge period is compromised, leaving us weakened for the next period of stress. Now this great hormone, vital to life, is unable to do its job properly. If this has been happening year after year, it is very hard to be healthy. We may have “learned to live with it”, but stress has taken its toll.
The complex stress reaction
Acute stress triggers norepinephrine and epinephrine release into the blood stream, where they cause the body to react to the emergency: heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure go up, blood vessels constrict, and sweat secretion is stimulated. These are all reactions that shunt the body’s energy to deal with a crisis. This response is inflammatory, hyping the immune system to destroy invaders. But these reactions are meant to be short-term.
While these reactions go away quickly after the stressor is gone, the cortisol effects are more persistent. When stress is perceived — it doesn’t have to be a real stress, just thinking it is will cause the response — a chain reaction is set off: the hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which causes release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), and this stimulates cortisol release from the adrenals. The cortisol levels rise about 15 minutes after the perception of stress, but they remain elevated for many hours. This means that even a short, acute stress may leave you in a hyped-up state for hours.
If you are going to deal with stress, evening is the worst time! Getting worked up at night is not going to help you sleep, as you are dealing with elevated cortisol levels.
When a stress event causes pain or trauma, cortisol tends to intensify the experience. Since the events causing such trauma are likely harmful, the mind needs to record these events with emphasis, so that every effort is made to avoid similar events in the future. By recording deeply, your mind is on the lookout to avoid a similar harmful event happening again. If you think back to any traumatic event memories, you probably notice that you can remember them much more vividly than normal events. This response may be helpful in avoiding harmful events in the future, but it also leaves mental scars which are impressed deeply. Cortisol promotes formation of fear-based memories by raising glutamate levels, which excites N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors that are important to forming memories. In other words, your memory recording process is paying close attention and capturing exquisite details of high stress events.
In a study at the MDI Biological Laboratory, published in Scientific Reports, researchers determined that, “chronic exposure to cortisol early in life has persistent effects on the stress response system that compromise the regulation of key immune system genes controlling inflammation.” Even chronic prenatal exposure could have long lasting effects on inflammation and immune response.
After prolonged periods of elevated cortisol, it has been overused to the point of exhaustion, where the body cannot produce normal amounts. This is very similar to insulin over-production leading to diabetes: the cells become insensitive to the hormone, and the body can’t produce enough to meet the body’s needs. Adrenal exhaustion occurs as the adrenals try to produce enough to meet the insatiable demands of your desensitized body. When you are operating with adrenal exhaustion, even exciting events don’t get your interest. You don’t want to face the day, and stimulants are the only thing that can get you moving. You tend to mope around, and it’s hard to enjoy life.
The MDI study also links chronically elevated cortisol levels to inflammation. Although cortisol is anti-inflammatory, when cells are resistant to it, it cannot do its job in controlling inflammation. This leads to ongoing inflammation, which leads to “inflammaging”, where the body degenerates as though it were aging faster than normal due to the tearing down effects of the inflammation. Remember that inflammation is the attack mode of the immune system, doing collateral damage because it is overactive, and this damage degenerates the body. As we’ve reviewed in other articles, inflammation also degenerates the brain, causing what we think of as age-related senility and cognitive dysfunction.
Turning this around
Although some stressors are physical, such as toxins or pain from injury, many are mental/emotional. Even with pain, our reaction can be mild if we don’t perceive it as stressful. Primarily stress is a mental reaction, and there is much we can do about our mental state.
When faced with a stressor, we can focus on it or on something else. Take, for example, worry about your health. You have a diagnosis that you wish you didn’t. Will you pile worry, with the health damage that causes, on top of it? You will if you dwell on it. But the mind actually is unable to truly multitask: it really only can focus on one thing at a time. Focusing on the good around you at this moment, and not pulling forward worries about the future, means that you are not currently adding to the stress cycle. The longer you are not perceiving stress, the more your body will stand down from the alerts calling for cortisol, and the more you can heal.
Another aspect is how we deal with a stressor when it occurs. An article in Psychology Today encapsulates it with this statement, “…emotional distress that can lead to health problems are most likely to occur when we perceive stressful events as threats rather than challenges.” In a study published by the American Psychological Association, 1346 middle-aged participants were surveyed on their experiences of stress for eight consecutive evenings, and their mortality data was collected over the next 20 years. They found a positive association on mortality risk to the total number of stressors experienced, and also an increase in mortality risk where the level of impact of the stressor days was higher. The level of stress, and the length of stress, both contributed to the mortality risk. For a mere eight days to have such an impact suggests that these days were a sample of what was ongoing in the participants’ lives. Those who were often threatened by stress shortened their lifespans.
Don’t forget that all aspects of health-building tie together. Diet, water, exercise, rest, environment — these are all important in giving your body what it needs to support you. With the body working properly, you will inevitably have less physical stress. And this supports a healthy mental state also!
The deep recordings of stress fade over time. Therapies can help in clearing them as well. One secret to living a long, satisfying life is to be long satisfied with your life. You can’t change the past, but you can make each day going forward better. As you do so, your body will respond. Count your blessings, dwell on the good, and look forward to good things coming from your Creator who made you and takes care of your real needs.
Dr. Nemec’s Comments:
We are stressed mostly from misperceptions that started in childhood. We are told who we are by our environment: mother, father, siblings, relatives, friends, etc. This stress stores on the hard drive of you conscious and subconscious mind as programs that can last your whole lifetime, and will affect your life health and physiology your whole life. This is why our most powerful therapy at Total Health Institute and the one most traveled for from across the globe is our unique Brain Mapping and Heart Brain Entrainment Therapy. Nobody heals cancer or any other disease unless they remove the conscious and subconscious stored stress programs that cause dysfunction and disease. How much do you think these programs affect your physiology? 40%, 50%, 60%? The answer is up to 90%! What you do to the mind you do to the body. How many people have we seen over the last 35 years that didn’t know how they could of ended up with cancer. My answer is always the same: SUBCONSCIOUS STRESS PROGRAM.
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