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Stress: Friend or Foe



Stress: Friend or Foe?


A great deal is said about stress. It’s a word used generally to mean a feeling of overwhelm. The modern lifestyle you and I live is radically different from our forefathers. Our physiology was never designed to deal with what is thrown at us today. You have most likely become out of touch with the natural rhythyms that dictate your physiology and by consequence, your health.


Everything you do is stressful. Stress can be both positive (eustress) or negative (distress). For example exercise if dosed correctly can force positive adaptation so over time our capacity improves. But, if this same exercise was inappropriately dosed it could have the opposite effect, resulting in a catabolic effect (a breaking down) and reducing your capacity.

At-A-Glance

  • Modern lifestyle is counter to our ancient physiology

  • Everything we do is stressful. Either positive (eustress) or negative (distress)

  • The stress response is regulated via the autonomic nervous system and its neural connections.


Here's the Science

Our stress response is regulated via the autonomic nervous system (ANS). As the name suggests, it is largely outside of our conscious control. The ANS regulates many different but essential body functions, such as heart rhythm, digestion, hormone production, excretion, and so on.


The ANS is divided into two systems, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic systems. The sympathetic system's primary role is that involved in the fight or flight response and the parasympathetic system is the antagonist to that and its primary role is that involved in rest and digest. Therefore, in the case of an emergency the sympathetic system will become activated and after the emergency has passed the parasympathetic system will become activated to return us back to equilibrium.

Problems arise, however, when the allostatic load (demands on our physiology) are too great and too prolonged that we develop a state called chronic stress or sympathetic dominance. From an evolutionary perspective, our physiology was never designed to deal with such prolonged periods of sympathetic dominance. As a consequence, many physical systems are negatively affected due to elevated levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine.


Conclusion

Stress is a double-edged sword. The stress response is an essential part of our survival response and it serves us well in times of emergency. But when the stress response becomes insidious and therefore chronic your health will suffer.

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