When we’re under stress the blood flow to the brain is redirected away from the cortex where our logical thought processes & emotional response areas are located to the Reptilian brain.
The reptilian brain is our survival centre. This is where the fight or flight response comes from.
When we’re in a chronic state of stress, which most of us are these days we are operating from this part of the brain. Our brain tells our body to react as if we are under physical threat.
Cortisol and adrenaline are released into the blood stream. Our cognitive performance is impaired. We can’t remember things, we can’t concentrate or think logically. So we tend to over-react to situations. We’re more moody, irritable, angry, agitated. High blood pressure, increased heart rate and breathing. Unable to relax, insomnia and troubled sleep, leading to constant fatigue.
Cortisol and adrenaline lowers our immune system so we are more prone to colds & infections.
Because we’re in the fight or flight response our muscles tense to get ready for flight so we get more aches and pains in the body, headaches. Our digestive system doesn’t work properly, lack of sex drive.
Stage 1 – Alarm reaction
Commonly known as the Fight or flight response.
- Adrenaline & cortisol is released. There is also activation of the HPA axis. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. A direct set of influences and feedback among the hypothalamus, pituitary and the adrenal glands. These organs are a major part of the neuro-endocrine system that controls reactions to stress & regulates many body processes for example the immune system, digestion, energy storage & expenditure, sexuality, mood & emotions.
- Overacting of the sympathetic nervous system
- Blood flows away from the brain
- Muscles tense
- Heart & breathe rate increase
- Constriction of blood vessels in many parts of the body
- Eyes dilate, possible tunnel vision; (loss of peripheral vision)
- Auditory exclusion (loss of hearing)
- Shaking, sweating
This means we can fight or flee from life threatening situations such as being attacked. When we are under real threat this alarm reaction is needed to protect us.
The issues we are having in modern day living is that we are in a constant state of stress. We perceive situations as being life threatening so our bodies are reacting in the same way as if we were actually in a physical danger. The alarm reaction and the bodies response is still the same.
Historically when a life threatening situation would occur we would either flee, expending the energy or fight, also expending the increased energy. Today, with our perceived life threatening situations and constant barage of stress with not enough time to relax. Our behavioral response to alarm reaction has changed from Fight – physical exertion, to anger, irritation, anxiety, argumentative behavior. Flight – watching tav, social withdrawal, substance abuse.
Stage 2 – Resistance/Adaptation
If the cause of the stage 1 stress is not removed, 2nd stage stress occurs, called resistance or adaptation.
The body attempts to cope with this stress. More hormones are released to sustain energy to cope with the stress. The adrenal cortex produces hormones called corticosteroids. These are involved in stress & immune response, regulation of inflammation, carbohydrate metabolism, protein catabolism, blood electrolyte levels & behavior.
If this continues the person will become fatigued, lethargic & irritable. This stage 2 stress is a heightened state of arousal, in a constant state of anxiety, pushing on through it. Not resting and recuperating. The bodies resources are depleted.
Stage 3 – Exhaustion
The body’s resources are depleted. It has run out of reserve energy. Physical, mental & emotional exhaustion occurs. Adrenal fatigue or adrenal exhaustion occurs. When long term stress occurs the hypothalamus continues to tell the adrenals to produce cortisol. This leads to fatigue and depression. Cortisol also interferes with serotonin levels.
Continually high levels of cortisol suppress the immune system. Research findings indicate that depression & stress negatively effect the immune system. Reduced immunity makes the body more susceptible to illness and disease.
In my practice and when teaching my Resolve Stress workshops, we know by muscle monitoring the level of stress the body is in. An overfacilitated muscle represents stage 2, resistance, as it is trying to ‘hold it all together’.
An underfacilitated muscle represents stage 3, exhaustion. The muscle just hasn’t got the strength. Our energy levels are that depleted.