What is the “stress response” and how does it affect my health?
The stress response is the body’s survival mechanism and is activated when we feel stressed, worried, fearful, anxious, etc. Our thoughts and feelings signal the body to produce cortisol, which is a chemical that functions as a messenger throughout the body to activate the “fight or flight” response (sympathetic dominant nervous system). It is your friend when you’re in real danger. It prepares the body to escape from danger, like when you need to run away from a tiger for example. It acts like a “turbo boost” function to give the extra energy needed to to handle the emergency at hand. It gets the “extra” energy by diverting energy away from other systems like your digestive system, immune system, reproductive system, etc. When the danger is over, the body should return to our normal “rest and digest” system (parasympathetic dominant nervous system) and energy is redirected back to the digestive system, immune system, and so on.
These natural processes of our autonomic nervous system are designed to keep us alive and safe. However, problems arise when we are chronically stressed and keep our body stuck in the “fight or flight” mode. We cannot function well when our digestive system, immune system and other necessary systems aren’t working properly. In fact, according to the CDC, over 90% of our health problems are related to stress. Furthermore, our autonomic nervous system cannot tell the difference between the physical danger of being chased by a tiger or being stressed about our kids, our work, our finances, our relationships, etc. So it’s very easy to trigger that “fight or flight” mode and stay there.
The branches of the autonomic nervous system are designed to keep us alive and safe. The “stress response” activates the sympathetic or “fight or flight” system and the “relaxation response” activates the parasympathetic or “rest and digest” system. Chronic worry and stress can keep us stuck in the fight or flight system and can negatively affect virtually every organ in the body and cause numerous health problems.
How do I turn off the stress response?
The opposite of the stress response is called the “relaxation response.” The relaxation response signals the body to return to the rest and digest (parasympathetic dominant) state. The stress response, relaxation response, and cortisol levels are affected by what we do, say, and think. That means that we can do something about it. To feel better, we decrease stress chemicals and increase “feel good” chemicals by changing what we do, say, and think. It’s easier to control what we do than it is to control what we think. It’s pretty hard to just choose to stop worrying and think ourselves happy. So our actions are our greatest point of personal power.
Through small and simple action steps we can proactively turn on the relaxation response and lower cortisol levels in the body. For example Hope for Healing offers a video with a 5 minute routine to decrease stress chemicals and increase feel good chemicals. We also offer a free progressive relaxation guide, free audio course on stress management, and several tips to relieve worry, stress, and anxiety. There are many things we can do to alter the chemistry in our bodies so we feel less stressed and enjoy better mental, emotional, and physical health and well being.
We have more power over how we feel than many people think. Please check out the many tips and tools offered by Hope for Healing by clicking on the images below. Also please check out our “free stuff” tab for even more resources.
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