Mental stress is increasingly recognized as a major source of health problems. Controlling mental stress is very important for optimal aging. Stress is a necessary mechanism for survival. However, the chronic and low-grade stress that is so common in modern life is not good for optimal health.
Stress is generally defined as a non-specific response to any demand placed on the body.
The main responses of the body are mediated by the sympathoadrenal system and the hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical axis (HPA). These are mediated by the hippocampus.
Three Major Phases of Stress
When you experience stress - your body typically moves through three phases:
You first become aware of the stress. This is the preparatory phase for your body’s response. Your heart beats faster, your breathing quickens, and your hypothalamus releases signals for increased hormone production.
Your body slows back down - returning back to its normal state of operation. Despite this, it can stay in a state of high alert, readying itself for another stressful event.
If you’re unable to move past either the alarm or resistance phases of stress, you may enter a state of exhaustion. Your body has exerted all its energy sources, and you can no longer keep up with demand. This can lead to increased risk for other illnesses - we’ll talk about those further down.
If you find yourself with chronic stress, or stuck in one of the above phases, you’re not alone. Dr. Meredith Warner’s supplement line, The Well Theory, offers several natural aids to dealing with stress.
Stress stimulates the release of corticotropin-releasing factor and this induces the release of adrenocorticoptropin hormone (ACTH) and glucocorticoids. Stress causes an overload of the glucocorticoid release.
Tense Muscles & Muscle Pain
If you’re dealing with chronic stress, you may feel the mental, emotional, or physical toll it’s placing on your body. This is because your body is continually in a hyperactive or hyper aware state.
In the alarm phase of stress, your muscles may tighten. But if you have chronic stress, your muscles may be tight all the time.
As your muscles feel tight and aching, it means your body’s nervous system is likely at play. The tightening of blood vessels can lead to reduced blood flow to your muscles. Maybe you get headaches as a result of tight muscles around the neck and upper back.
Eventually, this restriction of blood flow and tensing of muscles can lead to pain throughout your body.
In one study of healthy adults subjected to mental stress various physiologic parameters were measured. After a 60-minute period of low-grade mental stress, there was increased activity in the trapezius and frontalis muscles, increased blood pressure and respiration along with heart rate. Blood flow to the fingertips decreased and that response lasted longer than the other responses.
Irregular Cortisol Levels Lead to Decreased Energy, Mood, and Immunity
When you’re in the alarm phase of your body’s natural stress response, your nervous system releases hormones, including cortisol, the “stress hormone” (a glucocorticoid). During a typical day, your body releases cortisol at regular intervals. However, in a stress response situation, cortisol is released in higher amounts, allowing for a sharp increase in energy levels.
If your body’s stress response continues, you can overexert yourself and deplete your energy levels. If you’re overexerted, your immune system has a difficult time communicating with your HPA axis (the hypothalamus).
An ineffective immune system can lead to chronic fatigue, metabolic disorders, depression or other mood disorders, immune disorders, and chronic inflammation.
If you’re dealing with chronic stress - don’t let these negative side effects get in the way. Help your body regulate itself in a natural and healthy way. If you have significant mental stress that is not controllable by usual methods, we encourage you to seek help from your physician.