We’ve all experienced it. The feeling of frustration; like nothing is going right; nothing will ever be right again. Whether it is financial difficulties, your significant other, the kids or the boss, we have all experienced stress. We’ve all experienced it but what is stress really? What happens to our bodies during stressful periods?

Stress can be defined as the pattern of how we respond to a stimulus that disturbs our equilibrium and taxes or exceeds our ability to cope. Stress is a fight-or-flight response to a situation. It is an autonomic response to a perceived danger or emergency. Our bodies enter a sympathetic state where our sympathetic nervous system creates increased activity in various body systems. An increase in metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate and even muscle tension occurs. All of these things lead to that feeling of distress and unease.

Any change in our lives can cause stress: a marriage, a death, a new baby, buying and moving into a new house, or even a new job. Good stress motivates us and challenges us. Bad stress, on the other hand, demoralizes us leaving us feeling over-burdened with a lack of motivation. How we respond to stress is the key to whether stress triggers are good or bad.

Stress is divided into different stages according to Hans Selye, a Canadian endocrinologist who coined the term General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) to describe the physiological adaptations that occur in response to a continuing threat by almost any serious stressor.

Stage 1 – Alarm reaction

  • increase in stress hormones excreted from the adrenal glands
  • physical symptoms include headache, fever, aching muscles and joints, fatigue, loss of appetite and feeling of being unwell
  • if the stressor is acute the body bounces back to its natural balance quickly
  • if the stressor is chronic the person enters the 2nd stage

Stage 2 – Resistance / adaptation

  • symptoms from the 1st stage disappear due to developed “resistance”
  • physiological changes occur due to the slow increase in stress hormones such as altered glucose tolerance, blood pressure changes, thyroid and sex hormone changes
  • person experiences a reduced resistance to other stressors, even weak stressors can cause a strong reaction- this is the situation described as “the straw that broke the camel’s back”
  • excessive stress leads to the 3rd stage

Stage 3 – Exhaustion

  • person can no longer maintain resistance
  • pituitary and adrenals cannot maintain production of hormones
  • symptoms from stage one reappear
  • degenerative diseases develop due to adverse influences of the stress hormones (which have been released since stage one)

Being aware of our stress is the first step in combating it. There are various natural methods to combat stress and its symptoms.

Lynne McNally B.Sc., N.D. is a licensed and registered Naturopathic Doctor. Treatments are covered by most extended health insurance plans. To book an appointment call 416-640-8477.

This article originally appeared in the July 2010
issue of Scarborough SNAP.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *