by Stephanie Fallon
Stress is an inevitable natural response, evolved as a survival mechanism. It enables fast reactions to life-threatening situations and protection against danger. When exposed to stressful stimuli, a cascade of stress hormones is activated, causing physical or chemical imbalance, disrupting homeostasis, and leading to physiological, neural, and emotional changes. Perceived stressors send distress signals to the hypothalamus.The hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and suppresses the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), simultaneously activating the adrenal glands that secrete hormones into the bloodstream. Adrenaline and noradrenaline increase mental alertness, heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, muscle tone, and suppress digestion. Cortisol increases protein breakdown and glucose production helping to fuel the 'fight or flight' response, while also reducing inflammatory and immune responses. After the perceived acute stressor subsides, the brain inactivates the SNS, reducing cortisol and adrenaline levels, and activates the PNS, supporting the body to relax, decreasing heart rate, stimulating digestion, and physiology returns to homeostasis.
Effective adaptation to stress builds physical and psychological resilience, helping to better cope with future stressors. Stress response becomes maladaptive when stress exposure persists. The body continues secreting stress hormones, remaining in a state of hyperarousal and causing dysregulation to the nervous system.Elevated hormone levels can cause cognitive impairment, irritability, anxiety, depression, insomnia, digestive issues, and headaches.
Prolonged stress response (even when the stressor has gone) causes cortisol levels to decline leading to exhaustion, chronic fatigue, and weakened immune system, increasing the risk of heart conditions, significant mental and physical health problems. Integrating mindfulness/relaxation practices, such as meditation, yoga, and qi gong, daily movement, limiting digital and stimulant consumption, prioritising sleep, and nourishing your body with wholesome foods are ways you can support nervous system regulation and reduce stress.
Supportive supplements include vitamins C and B Complex, Magnesium, Omega 3 and herbs: Withania somnifera (ashwagandha), Passiflora incarnata (passionflower), Piper
methysticum (kava), Scutellaria lateriflora (skullcap), Ziziphus jujuba (jujube).
First published 2024