“Rock bottom became the solid foundation in which I rebuilt my life.”
~JK Rowling, Author of the Harry Potter Books
Stress – it’s as natural as eating, breathing and sleeping and an essential aspect of being a human being on this planet. With acute stress, something temporary, our body has every capability and resource in knowing exactly how to respond when we feel some type of threat, danger, fear or change – real or perceived – so that we ultimately feel safe and “make it out alive.”
The stress response in the body follows an intentional cascade of communication between the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenal glands. Cortisol, the main stress hormone secreted by our adrenal glands stimulates a “rallying of the troops” to all of our organ systems for the primary purpose of defense, protection and preservation. It’s a beautifully organized masterpiece. Our body’s got our back.
In a perfect world or circumstance, our body goes back to baseline so it can relax, repair and regain a sense of balance and structure.
Chronic stress or “no end in sight,” on the other hand plays out differently.
We might be faced with daily or ongoing stressors in our lives – job, financial, health conditions, raising children, caring for partners or aging parents, relationship stress, social isolation, pandemics, wars, etc.
Certain circumstances can still be stressful but produce incredible outcomes for our minds and bodies. Things like consistent exercise, leaving a job that no longer brings you joy and beginning a new one that’s more fulfilling, moving out of an old home and into a new home that you love, leaving a damaging relationship so that you can heal, studying for an important exam or earning your college degree, polishing your presenting skills to an audience, eliminating unhealthy lifestyle habits and replacing them with more nourishing choices and many more possibilities.
When the acute or chronic stress eventually ends, the stressor and stressful response is complete. Game over. The body goes back to normal, right? Not always.
Chronic stress can often occur as the recounting memory of a single stressful incident or a series of incidences from the past – months ago to many years ago. The original stressor is gone or resolved but the repeated pattern of thinking, feeling, remembering about the stressor – both consciously and subconsciously – will cause our body to suffer in the same way as if the stressor was still present. We are reliving it over and over and our body pays the price.
We’ve all done this. Dwelling over a longer period of time from a past hurt, betrayal, loss, abuse, accident, lie, cheat, manipulation, sabotage, etc. Even if you were justified in feeling hurt, the body still perceives it as chronic stress. It doesn’t know the difference.
Over time, chronic stress – whatever the cause – results in excess inflammation which leads to cell and organ damage, dysfunction, nutrient depletion, degeneration and ultimately disease.
Inflammation is a normal physiological response. It’s part of our defense system and yet it also initiates and executes the healing process. An overabundance of this essential process is counterproductive and catastrophic.
Listed below are common physiological adverse responses to chronic stress:
Ongoing Fatigue: Wired & Tired
Gastro-Intestinal Pain & Ulcers
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Intestinal Permeability (“Leaky Gut Syndrome”)
High Blood Pressure
Irritability & Impatience