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Chronic Stress: are you at Risk?


STRESS. You can’t avoid it these days - it literally surrounds us in everyday life and virtually no one is immune to it. Hello Covid. This year has not been easy. However, a little bit of stress is actually a good thing! It keeps us - and our neurological systems on its toes, for lack of a better term.


But, while short-lived stress is generally harmless, and sometimes even helpful (hello there, motivating adrenaline rush!), it’s when it persists and becomes chronic that it can really start to create havoc in our lives - and in our health.


Chronic stress can cause a range of concerning symptoms, and not just the psychological ones we often associate it with. It can also contribute to the development of a multitude of physical and mental disorders -- it truly is a full-body response!


In fact, chronic stress has become so stealthy at infiltrating every part of our lives that health professionals have dubbed a new illness for a new era… Chronic Stress - the health epidemic of the 21st century. [1]


What Does Chronic Stress Feel Like?

First, we must understand what the natural (normal) stress response feels like:


  • Encounter a perceived threat - whether that’s real or imagined, physical, mental or emotional

  • Hypothalamus, a tiny region at your brain's base, kicks into gear and sets off the alarm system in your body.

  • Via nerve and hormonal signals (sent as a result of the alarm system), the adrenal glands are prompted to release stress hormones, including Adrenaline and Cortisol

  • Adrenaline increases heart rate, elevates blood pressure and pumps up energy reserves

  • Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases glucose in the bloodstream, enhances the brain's use of glucose and bolsters tissue repair function

  • Cortisol also downgrades nonessential functions that would take up precious resources needed during the fight-or-flight response. For example, the immune system, digestive system, reproductive system and growth processes are all put on the backburner.

  • Perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. For example, as stress hormone levels drop, heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other body systems resume their regular activities too. [2]


But, what happens when the normal stress response goes into overdrive?


Even though a lion isn’t chasing you across the grassy plains anymore, you probably have a seemingly continuous accumulation of different types of stress - from your private life, professional life and everywhere in between.