Although most people assume stress is merely an emotional response because it is the most recognizable manifestation of stress, stress also causes chemical and physical changes in the body. Stress occurs in three recognizable stages termed the alarm phase, the resistance phase, and the relaxation phase. Under normal situations, the body is able to proceed through these stages in a natural way, but when an individual is constantly bombarded with stress, the body is unable to leave the resistance phase of stress which results in a negative impact on the health of the individual.
Stress is the body’s reaction to any stimulus that threatens the internal environment of the body. When the body is exposed to a stressor, the brain recognizes that the body is either already experiencing a danger or that risk to the body is imminent (Alarm Phase). Recognizing this threat, the brain sends a signal to a gland in your body, termed the adrenal gland, to respond to the stressor. The adrenal gland starts a cascade of events to activate the sympathetic nervous system, or your fight or flight response. The adrenal gland sends signals all over the body to makes your lungs breathe harder, your heart beat faster, your glands sweat, and your digestive system slow down (Resistance Phase) so that all available energy can be put toward protecting the body. Most of these physical changes in the body are governed by the release of catecholamines, epinephrine and norepinephrine, from the adrenal gland. In general, the body stops all processes of growth and repair so that it can protect the body’s immediate future. When the body is removed from the stressor, the body relaxes and growth and repair resumes (Relaxation Phase).
The stress response is a normal and important function in the body; however, many people are unable to leave the resistance phase of stress. Remember, while a person is in the resistance phase, the processes of growth and repair in the body are halted. Over time, if the body is unable to enter the relaxation phase of stress to resume its natural processes of repair, the individual will experience long term health issues. Some symptoms of an inability to properly respond to stress include fatigue, weakness, difficulty sleeping, difficulty regulating weight, problems regulating blood pressure, and skeletal pains. The adrenal gland plays an important function in metabolic activity, which is why an overworked adrenal gland can result in weight gain. Furthermore, the adrenal gland is responsible for releasing cortisol, which mobilizes fat in the body to be burned for energy and plays an important role in immune function. If exhausted from too much stress, the adrenal gland is unable to release sufficient cortisol and metabolism and the immune system pay the price.
If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms, consider calling Wilderness Chiropractic, Health and Wellness Center for a full examination of your adrenal gland to see how your body is responding to physical, chemical, and emotional stressors.