Let′s Talk About Stress

The start of April marks the beginning of Stress Awareness month and we’re ready to talk about the shunned topic. From the process of stress and the relationship it has with illness to case studies and different ways of coping with it, let’s talk about stress.

Identifying Stress
When reacting to a situation, the body must initially detect whether the instance is stressful. This is based on sensory input (using our five senses) and also on previous memories. If the situation is deemed stressful, the hypothalamus, a small region to the base of the brain, is activated. Short term stressors, such as physical harm or moving in front of a car, trigger the ‘Fight or Flight’ response. The hypothalamus stimulates the release of Adrenaline, which increases ones heart rate and raises our blood pressures, the body then diverts energy to areas of the body that need a reaction whilst other bodily function that do not need immediate attention are suppressed, such as digestion. Once the body appropriately reacts to the stressor and the situation is deemed unstressful, the body will then regulate itself, causing hormone levels to fall to normal as well as ones heart rate and blood pressure.

When the body detects long-term stress, such as an inability to pay your bills or transport delays on the way to work, the hypothalamus stimulates the pituitary gland, secreting a hormone called adrenocorticotropic (ACTH). ACTH stimulates the adrenal glands to release cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. Cortisol enables the body to maintain steady supplies of blood sugar and steady blood sugar levels to help cope with the prolonged stressor. Long-term stress is more problematic and plays havoc on our immune system. Not only does it deplete our ability to fight infection it can also play a key role in the development of anxiety disorders and depression.

The immune system is a collection of billions of cells that travel through the bloodstream, moving in and out of tissues and organs, defending the body against any foreign bodies (antigens) such as bacteria and viruses. The main immune cells are known as white blood cells, which produce antibodies that destroy any invading viruses and foreign bodies. When we’re stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight off these antigens is reduced due to cortisol suppressing the production of white blood cells. Our defence system is lower hence the direct correlation between high stress levels and illness.

Therefore, if you find yourself consistently ill, it may be important to outline any stressors you may have in your life and look into ways to reduce the stress attached to that activity. For example, if you take public transport to work, which could be deemed as very stressful, consider other means, such as walking or cycling, to get to work.

Over the next month, we will be highlighting different ways to cope with stress as well as tips to improve your wellbeing. Stay tuned...