Understanding Your Stress Hormones

Did you ever face a doberman and you were not sure whether he is going to eat you? You felt your heart pounding? Or were you ever trapped in a traffic jam on the way to the airport, and no way to get there in time? I guess you felt the effects of stress hormones in your life. What are these hormones, and what are they doing in your life?

Understanding Your Stress Hormones

Biologically, stress is a healthy and normal response to any ‘stressor’. The purpose of stress is to prime our body for action in the face of a physical threat. This is called the “fight or flight” response. If you sit in your living room and a tiger walks in the door, how do you react? Well, your brain and your body needs to work overtime, to figure out an escape route for flight, or get prepared for a fight, and either way you definitely will need some extra energy for that. At this moment, the body releases a number of hormones such as adrenaline, norepinephrine, dopamine and cortisol. These chemicals in turn trigger our bodies to reduce our routine functions (such as our immunity and digestive system) and direct the blood to our brains and muscles. Meanwhile, the neurotransmitters will increase focus, awareness and bring on feelings of anxiety and perception of danger. Our heart rates also increase and ultimately, we end up far more on-edge and ‘wired’. Even our feeling of pain is reduced and our blood thickens to encourage clotting in case of injury. All this is involved in what we know as the ‘fight or flight’ response.

Adrenaline, along with norepinephrine are the hormones which are largely responsible for the immediate reactions we feel when stressed. Imagine you’re trying to change lanes in your car. Suddenly, from your blind spot, comes a car racing at high speed. You return to your original lane and your heart is pounding. Your muscles are tense, you’re breathing faster, you may start sweating. That’s adrenaline.

Cortisol and Chronic Stress

Cortisol on the other hand takes a few minutes to kick in, and helps to maintain a healthy balance while you are resolving your stress mission. One major function is providing energy by stimulating several catabolic reactions, that are transforming protein and fat into energy. It controls the release or action of a number of other hormones, and this way helps to maintain fluid balance and blood pressure, while regulating some body functions that aren’t crucial in the moment, like reproductive drive, immunity, digestion and growth. Some effects of cortisol can last even a couple of days.

Today’s stressors are normally not the tiger walking in the door, but an argument with a friend or bills that need to be paid will still trigger that same stress response. And anything that our mind perceives as a threat will be a stressor, like angry bosses, empty bank accounts, upset partners, deadlines at work, and public speaking appointments.

And this is where the problem comes in. The body´s stress response is very adequate for an acute physical stressor, because it allows us to run faster, to spot danger, and to fight when needed. Once the danger goes away, our parasympathetic nervous system would kick in putting us back into the ‘rest and digest’ state, and our body would recover.

But when your stressor is something chronic and abstract, like the conflicts in your team, or the debt that doesn’t just go away, it means you’re constantly in an alert state, with a constantly elevated level of cortisol. Too much cortisol can suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure and sugar, decrease libido, produce acne, cause learning difficulties, lapse of memory, loss of muscle mass, increased obesity and much more.

When we reach a point of continuous chronic stress, the glands producing all those secondary hormones are now going on strike, leading to a condition called glucocorticoid resistance. That means cortisol remains to be elevated, but our cortisol receptors and hormone glands become overwhelmed and resistant to its effects. As a result, the stress recuperation is not taking place anymore.

Cortisol and Immunity

One major problem of cortisol resistance is the depression of the immune system.A particular research study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences((Sheldon Cohen et.al. Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Apr 17;109(16):5995-9.)) had two objectives.

The first one was to determine whether stress can cause cortisol resistance while the second objective was to determine whether cortisol resistance increases a person’s risk of acquiring an infection such as a common cold. 

The study had 276 healthy volunteers whose levels of stress, BMI, race, age, sex and glucocorticoid resistance were thoroughly assessed at the start of the research.

The volunteers were exposed to rhinovirus (i.e. the kind of virus that causes common colds), quarantined and observed for five days.

At the end of the study, researchers found that those volunteers who had recent exposure to an event that contributes to long-term stress developed glucocorticoid resistance which also put them at higher risk of developing a common cold.

Another study was conducted which was aimed at determining whether cortisol resistance could cause increased levels of inflammation. This time 79 volunteers had virus exposure and were monitored for five days. The results showed that those volunteers who were found to have glucocorticoid resistance had more proinflammatory cytokines, which promote systemic inflammation. Chronic stress definitely puts your immune system at risk.

Controlling Cortisol Levels

We see that reducing cortisol level will be an important goal in stress control. Now we can take a two-pronged approach to reducing cortisol levels:

  • Firstly – by reducing the stress that is the root cause of the problem, either by eliminating the stressors, or by improving the ability to cope with them. A reduced emotional response to any stressor will mean a reduced chemical reaction and less cortisol release.
  • Secondly – there are known lifestyle and dietary ‘hacks’ that assist the mind and body to reduce the release of cortisol into the system. Exercise, sleep, a light nutrition with lots of vitamin C and Omega 3 are some of the factors that can help reduce cortisol. Some bad habits can though increase cortisol production, like the consumption of caffeine, alcohol or an excessive amount of sugar.

Key is to learn how to deal effectively with chronic stress, which is responsible for high cortisol levels. If you want some more practical tips on how to effectively deal with stressors, and which lifestyle factors can help you reduce cortisol, get The 10 Minute Guide to Stress Management.

Is Stress Wrecking Your Life?

Stress ruins your quality of life. It can steal your physical health, rob you of mental well-being, ruin your relationships and cause problems at work. But it doesn’t have to be in control of your world every day.

You have to first be willing to have awareness as to the level of impairment stress is causing you. Once you’re honest about that, you can pinpoint strategies that give you back the reins of your personal satisfaction.

Is Stress Wrecking Your Life?

Do You Constantly Feel Like You Just Want to Get Away?

Stress can make you feel an assortment of emotions. It can hammer at you until you feel like you just can’t take it anymore. At first, the desire to get away might ebb and flow, but eventually, it feels like there’s always this craving to escape.

This can happen when you have situations at work that are draining your energy. You’re tired of the whiny colleagues and the demanding boss. You can’t take another second of trying to balance a never-ending workload in a place where you’re overworked and underpaid.

To add insult to injury, you know what you do isn’t appreciated. You feel like you’re just a cog in the machinery. Even worse, things at home aren’t much better. There’s always a bill to pay – always something going on so you can’t relax.

Your to-do list seems like it grows by the second and you just can’t catch a break. No one is listening to you, so you’ve been keeping everything inside and now you want to isolate yourself from everyone and everything causing chaos in your life.

Sometimes, you feel like you can’t even stand to be alone. You’re not happy with yourself and you want to run away from your job, your home life and from who you are as a person.

Stress can cause people to experience an intense feeling of being at their breaking point. It can come on slowly or it can build over time. That’s because you’re only built to handle so much stress.

Just like a pot that’s cooking on the stove burner, too much heat is going to cause you to eventually boil over. When you reach that point, it’s because the stress hormones have been cooking within you and causing mental and physical reactions.

This is your body’s normal response and it’s not designed to harm you. Feeling like you just want to get away is your body’s way of saying, “Pay attention. Something is going on here and it’s wrong. Get away from the danger.”

You get that signal and it can be confusing if you don’t realize that this signal is a stress-based way of trying to help save your mental and physical well-being. The more stress that you’re under or have been under for awhile, the greater the desire will be to just run away as far and fast as you can.

When you feel like this, consider it to be a wake up call. Your body wants you to know that if you don’t take action, you’re going to eventually break. The stress load that you’ve been carrying is too heavy for you to bear and your body wants you to figure out a way to give it relief.

Are You Taking It Out on Others?

Stress can wreck your life when it spills out on those around you. When you feel that internal pressure building up and your coworker comes to you with the same problem you’ve already tried to help them with and they didn’t listen, you might find that your response is to snap at them.

If they reach out to you by email, you might end up answering them tersely, clearly letting them know that you’re irate. Instead of going out with your coworkers like you used to, you avoid them after hours.

You’re angry or sad and instead of understanding that what you feel has nothing to do with the other person, you lash out at them. This stress spillover can cause you to snap at your spouse.

You’ll find that their actions bother you and stress can cause you to take it personally. Stress can also blind you to what’s actually going on. You might find dozens of ways that your spouse is suddenly at fault and blame what you’re feeling and going through on the one that you love.

You might yell, argue or give your spouse the cold shoulder. You shut yourself off from them and keep your distance. The tension in the relationship just makes the stress you feel get worse.

If you have kids, you might take your stress out on them. Instead of playing a game with the kids or being present in their lives when you get home, you just want them to go play on their own and be quiet so you can unwind.

Where before, you thought their antics were cute and funny, now you find them irritating. You might go into a room alone and turn on the TV and ignore your kids altogether, pushing the care of them off onto your spouse.

Wanting to watch TV alone can be a sign that stress is affecting your social life.

If the stress that you’re dealing with is related to your finances or your health, this can exacerbate the tension between adults in the house. Other family members can also be a target of stress.

You might be trying to juggle too many responsibilities. There’s so much to do that you feel like you’re not even making a dent and the next thing you know, your parents want you to do something or a sibling asks you for help.

Maybe one of them drops by just to chat when spending time with someone is the last thing you want to face. You might say something that you regret because you take your frustration out on them.

The stress that you’re under has sent you beyond the limit of what you’re capable of holding in and you act in a way that later you feel guilty about. This causes even more stress and when you’re around them at all, you can tell they were hurt by what you said or did. As a result, this stress might make you start avoiding your family altogether.

Are You So Frazzled You Can’t See a Way Out?

When stress frazzles you, it can make you think there’s no way out. That’s because it’s overwhelming you. The stress that you’re under feels as if you’re stuck in the middle of the ocean and you keep swimming and swimming, but the safety of land isn’t anywhere on the horizon.

A lot of people give up because being under too much stress can incapacitate you to the point that you don’t even know what to do, much less have the ability to take any action.

You do your best to juggle everything in your life. Trying to keep up with work and home responsibilities and take care of everyone in your life is draining. When the stress frazzles you, it can start to feel like everything is just hopeless.

Maybe you don’t try to change anything because you think, “What’s the use?” You believe that the change won’t last, that everything will go back to the way that it was anyway.

Stress frazzle is when you get to the place in your life where you’re mentally and physically exhausted. Things start to slide at this point. You lose your concentration at work.

You get behind. You snap at your coworkers or tell off your boss. At home, you argue with your spouse and withdraw from your kids. You avoid your responsibilities because you can’t drum up the energy to do anything.

You’ve basically decided to stop because everything looks like it’s a dead end. There’s no use trying to decide how you can change things. When you reach this stage, it’s easy to believe that whatever has caused you stress is unfixable.

This is when feelings of anger or anxiety can turn into depression. But keep in mind that just because things look and feel hopeless doesn’t meant that they actually are. It only means that what you’ve been doing, how you’ve been living and letting the stress accumulate just isn’t working for you any longer.

There are solutions available and you can stop the stress from wrecking your life. You don’t have to put up with feeling like everything is hopeless. Some of the solutions that you can find can offer you relief right now without you having to wait weeks or months to feel better.

But you have to take that first step and realize that you can’t keep going on the way things are. You need help to stop stress from causing any additional damage and you need to heal from the damage that it’s already caused.

Are You Starting to See Physical Symptoms?

Stress is something that can be pretty sneaky. It’s not like it announces its presence with one glaring symptom. Instead, stress spreads the symptoms around. So you could have a variety of symptoms, all seemingly unrelated when they actually all point back to stress. 

Headaches are a common occurrence in some people and they’re also one of the most often overlooked signs of stress. A headache every now and then is normal. Recurring headaches are not.

Headaches can be caused by stress

These are tension headaches and the stress can reach a point so that they’re so bad, they wake you from a sound sleep. Some people develop migraines with stress. These are usually targeted areas of pain in the head and you may also get nauseous at the same time.

You can experience both light and noise sensitivity as well. Experiencing aches and pains throughout the body is a sign that stress is starting to manifest in physical symptoms.

You can feel muscle or joint pain. When you get stressed, your body tenses. This is a normal response and with healthy stress, the tension dissipates. But constant stress causes long lasting tension in the muscles.

This leads to painful shoulders, neckaches, backaches and more. Digestive issues can be stress related. You can have stomach cramps and feel like you’re going to be sick to your stomach.

You can also develop trouble going to the bathroom or have bouts of diarrhea. You might have a loss of appetite or a raging hunger. Stress is known to cause insomnia. The anxiety and worry keeps you from being able to sleep and when you don’t sleep well, that can acerbate other stress related physical symptoms like muscle aches and headaches.

Stress can also cause chest pain and tachycardia. Your heart might beat so hard that you’re sure something is wrong. Some people have gone to the emergency room certain that they were having a heart attack, but it turned out their symptoms were caused by stress.

The thing about stress manifesting in physical problems is that by the time your stress reaches this point, it’s serious and you need to do something about it to protect your health.

Has Stress Become Your Norm?

Stress is different for everyone. What’s stressful to you might not bother someone else and vice versa. The reason stress doesn’t create a one-size-fits-all reaction in everyone is because the stressor isn’t the real problem.

Many people have trouble at work or home. There are bills and responsibilities all around and issues that create emotional and mental havoc. So it’s not what creates the stress that affects you – it’s the lack of coping skills.

When a person is unable to deal with the stressor or the results of the stressor, then they push it aside and don’t do anything with it. It doesn’t go anywhere, but they learn to live with the stress the situation causes them.

This happens because sometimes trying to fix the stress is uncomfortable. It might involve digging into things that you don’t want to face. But not facing stress is like having a huge stain in the middle of your living room floor.

This stain has been there in your home for a long time. You don’t know exactly when the stain first occurred and maybe you don’t even know what caused it, but it’s there and it’s not going anywhere. It used to bother you to see the stain, but over time, you’ve learned to turn a blind eye toward it. You’ve gotten used to and it’s now your normal. You’ve learned how to accept it.

The same can happen with stress. You might not even realize that you’ve made stress a normal part of your life that you simply accept. When stress has become your norm, it means that you’ve learned how to adapt. You’ve altered some things about your life in order to make it as comfortable as possible to live with that stress.

Below the surface, this situation could be destroying your health. Stress wrecks your immune system. Plus, people who are stressed are two times more likely to have a heart attack than people who created coping skills for their stress.

Planning your day can help get stress under control

Your physical and mental health cannot live with stress, no matter how well you think you’re surviving in spite of it. There are many options that you can choose so that this chaos you’ve been living with ends and you get your serene life back. There is hope that you can find peace and freedom from stress – you just have to be willing to seek it out.

If you need some tips how you can get stress under control, download the Ten Minute Guide to Stress Control and start today to develop proper coping skills for your stress.

Does the Pandemic Stress You Out?

Pandemic Stress

Almost half of the Americans report that the pandemic is affecting their mental health.((Coronavirus is harming the mental health of tens of millions of people in U.S., new poll finds. Washington Post, April 2, 2020)) A federal disaster distress hotline ha seen a more than 10x spike in incoming text messages during the pandemic.((The Health 202: Texts to federal government mental health hotline up roughly 1,000 percent. Washington Post, May 4, 2020)) In the UK a study ascertained the anxiety level of the population on a scale of 1 to 10. They found out that the average anxiety level jumped from 3 before the pandemic to 5.2 right after the lockdown.((Coronavirus and anxiety, Great Britain: 3 April 2020 to 10 May 2020. Office of National Statistics)) Especially couples and elderly people have seen a drastic rise in anxiety level.

Continue reading “Does the Pandemic Stress You Out?”

What are the Symptoms that Stress Causes in Your Life?

Traffic Jam causes Stress

You know how life goes. There’s always something that interrupts your plans and it happens on the day when you can least afford to encounter a stressor. You might be on your way to work because you have to go over a project with your boss before the client gets there for a scheduled appointment. But the next thing you know, you’re trapped in a traffic jam. There’s no way around it and you can’t turn back. You’re just stuck. When this happens, your body reacts and floods your system with stress hormones. And the symptoms your body will manifest can be manifold.

Continue reading “What are the Symptoms that Stress Causes in Your Life?”

Prayer for Stress Relief– How Does it Work?

Prayer is calming

Stress is sometimes getting us unaware. We are suddenly facing a crisis and do not know how to handle it. Other times it will creep on us in small increments until we feel that life spins out of control. Stress will hit us harder when we are overtired, being sick or passing through tragedies. Few people think about prayer as a stress reliever when the schedule is tight. But a growing body of research shows that it could be a useful tool to get your stress under control.

Continue reading “Prayer for Stress Relief– How Does it Work?”

There Are Many Ways to Manage Stress

If you don’t manage stress, it will find a way to manage you. Stress can be very invasive in your life. It loves to be in the driver’s seat and you hand over the keys without fail on a regular basis because you feel defeated by it.

You might be blaming the boss, the car mechanic or your spouse for your stress. You can’t control what other people do or say, but you can manage some of the smaller irritations in your world in order to reduce your stress. Continue reading “There Are Many Ways to Manage Stress”