Stress is everywhere – if you are alive you experience situations which are stressful. Stress manifests in so many forms and situations that you don’t even perceive it as stress anymore. It has insinuated into your lives and it has become your daily companion.
Your reaction to stress is what makes the difference between life and death, between health and illness. The changes that happen in the body during a stressful situation make you more alert, more fit physically to face a threat. You heard about the fight-flight response. This is a normal mechanism which ensures your survival in a real danger situation like facing a bear attacking you or, in the city jungle, jumping out of the way of a car coming towards you.
The body’s response to stress consists of the discharge of two main hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. They support you in the stressful moments by speeding up the heart rate and the breathing, increasing the blood pressure, tensing the muscles and making you ready to meet the danger, either to fight for your life or to run away in order to save it.
Your response to stress is designed to protect your life. It is a natural physical, emotional and mental reaction to both good and bad experiences that is beneficial short-term. However, if the response to stress is not ceased after the danger has passed and the discharge of hormones is not stopped, the effects of cortisol (especially) can be devastating. Instead of working to ensure your survival the cortisol turns into a slow and insidious killer affecting almost all the organs in the body.
A stressful situation, like hearing steps behind you in the night or a dog barking at you, stimulates in an instant a little part of the brain specialized in receiving messages warning of dangers called amygdala. Your amygdalae (because there is one each side of your brain) are essential to your ability to feel certain emotions, especially fear, and to perceive them in other people.
Not only real life threatening situations trigger the amygdala but also situations related to work stress, worrying about your family, fighting with your partner, meeting deadlines and others. They all make you feel like you are under assault and are perceived as potentially dangerous. The amygdala fires nervous impulses towards another part of the brain which is involved in survival located close by and called hypothalamus. This is the centre which takes over the action chain once the alarm system of the body has been set off.
The hypothalamus is part of an axis of action that involves another gland called the pituitary, also situated in the brain. During stress the final target of the axis are the adrenal glands situated on top of the kidneys so the axis it the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA).
After the amygdala sends a distress signal the hypothalamus activates a rapid path to react to danger called the autonomic sympathetic nervous system. This works like an accelerating pedal in a car providing the body with an outburst of energy that would support the rapid actions that would save its life from the perceived dangers.
Due to the nervous signals sent the breathing is faster providing the heart with the oxygen it needs to work faster and to pump more blood to the muscles and the brain. Therefore the heart rate and the blood pressure increase, the tension of the muscles working quickly and strongly to fight or to flee is supported and the brain becomes more alert, some of the senses becoming sharper like sight or hearing.
The nervous impulse reaches the adrenal glands too stimulating the production of the adrenaline which will be released into the blood stream supporting all the changes mentioned as well as the release of glucose and fats from the storing site supplying energy to all organs involved in the response to stress.
There is another autonomic nervous system called the parasympathetic nervous system which is in charge of calming the body down after the danger has passed and putting it into a relaxation mode related to feed-breed and rest-digest as opposed to fight-flight mode.
All the changes happen even before you are aware of them, before the brain had a chance to assess and clarify what is going on and this is the reason why you are able to jump out of the way of an incoming car.
After this initial moment the hypothalamus activates a second path of the stress response which has to do with the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA). If the brain continues to perceive a threat a cascade of hormones is discharged starting with the hypothalamus which releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which travels to the pituitary gland triggering the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).
This then travels to the adrenal glands stimulating the release of cortisol into the blood stream which maintains the response to stress and keeps the body on alert. Cortisol increases the quantity of glucose in the bloodstream providing “food” for the neurons and the organs which work hard during the stress response (heart and muscles), enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.
All these effects are designed to ensure the survival by prioritizing the functions that are needed for this. All other functions which are not necessary are inhibited like the digestive system, the reproductive system, the immune system, the thyroid and kidney function, the growth and formation of bones included as well.
Cortisol also has a negative feedback on the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland which is a way of the body saying that it has got the message and it is working on it. If the stressful event is stopping then this signal stops the HPA axis.
If you constantly react to your life situations through your survival mechanism as if you were really threatened the HPA axis stays turned on and this whole process continues keeping the body in stress mode and those essential functions suppressed.
The long-term activation of the stress-response system and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems.
There are hundreds of stressful situations that you face during your life time which the brain perceives as threats to the survival of the body putting the body in high alert and activating the HPA axis. Some of them are more obvious and others are more subtle:
Other times the stress is in the:
You are trying to keep yourselves and your lives together to do the best you can, to be happy, to have love and prosperity. However, there is always something that you think you can do better, someone better you can be, something more to achieve and run for. You think about the next thing to get, next thing to do to feel alive and happy.
You get stuck in thoughts and emotions, you run the same patterns of behaving, thinking and feeling angry, sad, happy and excited and then frustrated, afraid and worried again in an endless cycle. You define yourselves based on ideas, concepts, beliefs and you identify yourselves with being good or bad, ugly or beautiful, worthy or not good enough, hyper sensitive, stupid, smart or ignorant and so on.
As a consequence of these you are busy wanting and striving and consume your vital energy with comparing and competing with others, with defending, criticizing and judging, with wanting to perform, to achieve and to please and so much more. You get sick and then you suffer more keeping yourselves in the cycle of stress.
The ongoing stress the body is subjected to and the prolonged exposure to the body’s response through these hormones leads to a long list of diseases and conditions.
So dealing with the stress there is in your life is beneficial both for your ovulation and for your health overall. The emotional, physical and mental cycle that you experience each month is influenced by the sexual hormones BUT not only. YOU can also influence the way you experience it and the way you live life: happy, healthy and at ease with what is happening or stressed and haunted by aches and pains, by misery and complaining?