Our bodies react in specific ways to certain situations. They are built to protect us from danger and potentially harmful situations. These physiological reactions helped to protect our ancestors from predators, and in today’s world, protect us from potential accidents or those wanting to harm us and even a huge workload as we try to make ends meet and handle day-to-day life.
On an average day, we face multiple stressful situations and these seemingly minor hassles may be treated as threats by our bodies. This may result in feeling as though you are constantly under attack which leads to chronic stress.
When your body perceives a threat, the hypothalamus – a small area at the base of your brain, sets an alarm off and tells your body to produce certain hormones in order to help you face the attack, this is known as the fight-or-flight response. The alarm, using hormonal and nerve signals, tells your adrenal glands – found at the top of your kidneys, to release hormones, these include adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol.
Here’s what these 'stress hormones' do:
Adrenaline elevates blood pressure, increases heart rate and boosts your energy supplies. It results in heightened feelings of excitement, strength, energy and alertness. For instance, if you are running a race, adrenaline might give you the strength to push your body further in order to win it.
There are stories of mothers lifting small cars off of their children, soldiers carrying people double their weight out of danger and other stories just like them all of which can be attributed to the release of this hormone. Adrenaline is able to make our bodies do phenomenal and extraordinary things.
Similar to adrenaline, it is also released from the adrenal glands. When you are stressed in a situation, you tend to feel more awake, more energised and more focused. This hormone aids in creating that feeling as it shifts the blood away from areas where it is not as crucial, like the skin, and towards more needed areas like muscles – enabling you to run faster or lift heavier.
Depending on the level of stress experienced, as well as how you handle stress personally, the time to return the body to its resting state is anywhere between 30 minutes and a couple of days.
Cortisol is the primary hormone of stress, it increases glucose levels in the bloodstream whilst improving your brain’s use of glucose and increasing the availability of substances that aid in repairing tissues. It kerbs the functions of the body that will not be needed for the fight-or-flight situation. It does this by altering the immune system response and suppressing the digestive system, growth processes and the reproductive system as it maintains blood pressure and fluid balance.
This natural alarm system is also able to communicate to the controlling regions of the brain relating to mood, fear and motivation.
It is clear to see that your body is rather remarkable in its adaptability to our surroundings and situations. We can also start to understand that when severe stress is experienced on a prolonged basis, it can affect the body, it’s digestive system, growth and more rather significantly.
These effects occur when a stressful situation lasts longer than it should and the body continues to release cortisol. The result of chronically elevated cortisol levels leads to serious conditions and issues. Too much of the hormone can result in the immune system being suppressed, high blood pressure and sugar levels, skin problems such as acne and even weight gain and obesity.