Before getting into epigenetic changes associated with stress, I thought I would delve a little deeper into the bodies response to stress. It is recognized that stress causes the human body to prepare for “Fight or Flight”, actions which our ancestors would have considered when threatened. When stressed, the human body secretes cortisol to enhance the bodies chance of surviving an attack - small increases in cortisol give us a quick burst of energy, helps us remember things, reduces our sensitivity to pain - all good things if a lion is about to make you the main course.
For a short time, these are all valuable responses in a crisis. The problem is that people today tend to be stressed all the time. At that point cortisol levels are elevated for longer than is good, causing a number of problems:
•Impaired cognitive performance
•Suppressed thyroid function (feeling tired all the time is one impact)
•Blood sugar imbalances such as hyperglycemia
•Decreased bone density
•Decrease in muscle tissue
•Higher blood pressure
•Lowered immunity and inflammatory responses in the body, slowed wound healing
•Increased abdominal fat, which is associated with heart attacks, strokes, increased “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and reduced “good” cholesterol (HDL) levels
Cortisol has been termed the “Stress hormone” - perhaps a better name would be the stress killer.
OK - raise your hands - how many of you are stressed most of the time.
I think I see one person who has their hands in their laps - ooops, he’s asleep. Lean over there and wake him up.
Cortisol is a healthy hormonal response to stress - provided it is a short term response. So, how do you get your stress levels back in synch? Here is a short list of actions which will help:
•Listening to Music
To this list I want to add: Doing things that generate satisfaction and happiness. As in fixing little things around the house before they bother you. Taking a moment to help someone who doesn’t quite get how to do something. Thinking about the things that went right today, and putting together a plan to take care of those things that didn’t.
If you want to read more on stress and cortisol - check out this article
Tomorrow we will dig a little deeper into the impact of stress on our bodies.