The Stress Response: What’s Really Happening In Your Body

 
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Your heart starts racing, your stomach ties into a knot, your head gets heavy and foggy. Then the surge passes and you’re left with fatigue, pain, and maybe indigestion or a headache…hello stress response.

Your body is always working on your behalf, and the stress response is no exception, but it doesn’t always feel helpful. So by understanding what’s happening internally, you’re empowered to partner with your body as it works to protect you.

This topic is important for you if…

….You have a chronic medical condition that keeps your internal body in chronic stress, OR if you ever experience stress from external sources (aka life). All hands raised? I can relate to both and that’s why this topic is so fascinating to me. Because I have a form of dysautonomia, my body is in chronic stress beyond my control, so it’s critical to daily support my nervous system in order to maintain health. And I’m pretty sure that if you’re reading this, you have stress that is beyond your control too.

What is the Stress Response?

When you’re mentally or physically overwhelmed, the body enters “fight or flight” mode.  Your sympathetic nervous system releases a surge of the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline to prepare your body to fight or to flee.  This may result in your heart racing or trouble breathing as your body prepares for action. In preparation to run away from the danger, blood rushes from your skin and head and towards your organs and muscles, making you pale, lightheaded, and shaky. Your pupils dilate to make you more aware of the danger, and then often….you don’t actually need to run away. No tiger. Now you’re left feeling exhausted, foggy headed, and overwhelmed until you come back to homeostasis, which can take 30-60 minutes, sometimes longer.

Let’s take a minute to recognize how AMAZING the body is that it does this for us to protect us. Nothing is “wrong” with you whether you experience this stress or “anxiety” once a month or 20 times a day, your nervous system is just needing to know that you’re safe, that it doesn’t have to jump into defense, that you’re going to keep taking care of your body and healing your heart.

 
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What are Negative effects of the Stress Response?

The negative effects of these “fight or flight” gymnastics may last an hour, or they might be chronic depending on your lifestyle and physical complications. Here are a few effects post-stress response:

-The adrenaline surge increases acidity, specifically in the digestive system.  If your acidity gets too high, it may even burn through the stomach lining causing ulcers or a “raw” feeling.

-The increase of acidity makes the body more susceptible to illness, and you may experience flu-like symptoms.  

-It affects the stability of the microbiome, which is why you might become extra gassy or bloated during stress.

-Stress shuts off parts of the immune system, as well as parts of your digestion, brain function, detoxification, and motility.  Since your body is busy trying to keep you alive during stress, it sacrifices optimal function of other core body processes. So if you’re getting sick often, your digestion is poor, or you’re having trouble focusing, you may be feeling these affects.

These all sound like a bummer, right? But remember, your body is fighting FOR you, so now our job is to understand what it’s doing, why it’s doing it, and how we can partner with our body in the healing that it’s working towards.

 
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How can you support your body in times of stress?

In the next two blog posts I’ll be sharing how to mentally support your nervous system, as well as 8 ways to physically support the body after it undergoes the stress response. But for today, I want to leave you with two things that have been very helpful for me personally through general life stress as well as chronic physical stress.

  1. “I accept whatever is happening in my body right now. I am not afraid. I choose freedom.” This mantra gives your thinking mind acceptance and guidance - Acceptance that it’s ok to be however it is (whether you feel faintish from anxiety, or experience stomach pain from illness…it’s ok). The nervous system responds to fear in the body and mind, so acceptance begins to brings ease, followed by truth that supports it towards stability.

  2. Be mindful about eating a nutrient dense diet. There is so much science behind why this is important specifically for the nervous system and for recovering from the effects of the stress response, so I’ll dive into those in the next few weeks, but for now, know that when you’re fueling your body with nutrient dense meals and snacks that contain unprocessed grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and healthy fats (barring any personal allergens), you’re partnering with your body as it works to protect you and heal. Your body is on your team!

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If you’re ready to learn more about helping your body and mind thrive in the wake of stress, let’s chat! This topic is SO important if you live with any degree of physical or emotional stressors or chronic illness. Click here to schedule a free 60 minute consultation with me.

***This information is based on my research, education, and personal experience and is not to be used as a medical diagnosis.  You should always consult your doctor and find what works best for your unique body.