Stress, it’s all around us, always has been, and always will.  But what is stress? Why does it exist, and how can we cope with it?  Let’s talk about stress.

Stress, what is it good for…

There are two kinds of stress; good stress, and bad stress.  Yup, stress can actually be a good thing.  Stress can be a motivator, and helps push people to get the job done.  On the other hand, perhaps in the long term stress then becomes damaging to ones health.

Originally stress was a very useful tool.  It’s a mechanism for avoiding harm; imagine being chased by a lion, that’s stressful right?!  That kind of stress gives us super-human speed to get the heck away from that lion.  There’s a classic example of a child being trapped under a car, and the mother having super mom strength to lift the car off her child.  Stress triggers a chemical response in our bodies. Those chemicals are called stress hormones they are corticosterone and epinephrine; these come from the adrenal glands.  An overactive adrenal gland causes your immune system to be under active, think autoimmune disorders and cancer.  So chronic long term stress taxes your adrenal glands which then taxes your other body systems, including your immune system (more on that in a moment).

Here’s the typical way stress plays out in the modern life.  Our tight, over scheduled, over stimulated, over worked lifestyles of the modern working parent, or student, career person or the unemployed.  All with high levels of stress and pressure, that never lets up.  Such as chronic diseases, illnesses, hormone imbalances, insomnia, the pressures of college, upkeep of relationships, or working multiple jobs.  To keep up with these demands our body uses the emergency energy back up system, the one we save for running from a lion, or saving our children, also known as our adrenal glands.  The adrenals are small glands that sit on top of your kidneys.  They are responsible for releasing those stress hormones.  So here’s where we use or abuse that stress to help us complete our list of tasks.  The adrenals also help with regulating sodium (think blood pressure), play a role in how your body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins (think weight gain), they produce a male sex hormone (in Chinese Medicine think Kidney Yang Qi), and most importantly for this discussion they are responsible for adrenaline.  Let me back up a minute and talk about the nervous system.  This is all so complicated, stay with me now!

Ok so we have a Sympathetic Nervous System and a Parasympathetic Nervous System.  These are systems that communicate through your nerves with your brain.  The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our “fight or flight” reactions (like those above, running from a lion, or saving our wee one’s).  The parasympathetic nervous system is known as the “rest and digest (or feed and breed)” system.  The sympathetic nervous system receives messages from the adrenals about stress.  The adrenals dump hormones into the bloodstream, and if there’s a bunch of stress hormones in there your brain kicks into “fight or flight” mode.  When you’re in fight or flight mode your body focuses on keeping you alert, amplified if you will, heart rate goes up, digestion and fertility take the back burner, but only long enough for you to get away from the stressor (the lion, or your job…).  These things eventually add up in our bodies, and if we don’t have a regular/frequent stress relief practice; of say yoga, exercise, meditation, prayer, art, music, therapy, oh and acupuncture; you might begin to notice symptoms like fatigue, digestive problems, infertility, insomnia, high blood pressure, and muscle tension.  These are a few symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue.  When you finally get burned out, and have finally exhausted your adrenal glands this leads to reduced cortisol production.  Cortisol activates the anti-stress and anti-inflammatory pathways, and is a balancing hormone that our friend the adrenals produce.  So it’s a vicious cycle of feeling exhausted so you drink some coffee (or other stimulants) to get you going on with your busy day, which helps the burnout process come a bit faster, which in turn makes you produce less of the hormone you need to help you de-stress.

So while this adrenal over load work is being done, the adrenals are releasing a hormone that decreases the immune system.  This hormone can actually be given to people who have autoimmune disorders to help regulate or calm their over active immune system. In a person with a normal to low immune system, having a lower immune system is bad news. If your immune system isn’t quite what it should be, you might experience prolonged or frequent colds, allergies, congestion, chronic cough, fatigue, craving sweets, weight gain, dryness-skin/nose/eyes, but in more severe autoimmune cases there are many diseases and symptoms.  So our defense system is actually a chemical and hormone balancing act too?!  That’s right, without a balanced adrenal system you can’t have a balanced immune system.

Vicious cycle all right, but ultimately a cycle continued by the decisions we make. The choice to change the cycle is a difficult one, and requires some serious effort and follow up. That’s where acupuncture comes in. Acupuncture is really useful for recovery, and for helping with times of transition.  Acupuncture not only treats this ailment or that problem, it’s a complete medicine that balances you mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Recommended reading:
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers is a book by Robert M. Sapolsky.

 

Your BAC Crew