The Impact of Stress

What is Stress

Stress should not be viewed in a negative context.  We all need to stress to stimulate and develop ourselves.  Our internal reactions are what determines the response not the actual stressor.  Stress arises as a maladaptation response to stressors.  Internal reaction is individualised and we all experience it differently.

  • Stress  is the non-specific response of the body to any demand.
  • A Stressor is that which produces stress.
  • Acute Stress (Eustress) is the alarm reaction and recovery follows quickly.
  • Chronic Stress (Distress) is where we have constant/repeated stress  with no recovery and this impairs immune response/general health.
  • During the alarm reaction, the body’s defences are reduced.  When activation becomes chronic, these transition from alarm reactions to the stage of resistance in which defences are elevated.  Finally to the stage of exhaustion in which defences are again reduced.

So ……. some stress is healthy however when we are exposed to excess stress it can adversely affect health.   When we have that  flight or flight response it is our brain who decides what is dangerous.  The Physiological response is similar and regardless of the trigger, the effect is one of magnitude. Some stressors are hard wired (spiders, snakes) and others are learned from our environment (technology, processed foods, recreational drugs).

Modern lifestyle exposes us to stressors such as

  • Less rest
  • More noise
  • More information
  • More toxins
  • Reduced family support systems

The Fight or Flight Response

The stress response is characterised by the rapid activation of the sympathetic nervous system.  Adrenalin and Noradrenalin (Epinephrine and Norepinephrine) promote enhanced vigilance, alertness, arousal and attention and they feed back to increase the SNS response.  We then experience:

  • Increased arousal, cognition and vigilance.
  • Increased blood pressure, heart rate and/or respiratory rate.
  • Increased intermediate metabolism.
  • Suppression of appetite.
  • Inhibition of digestion, stimulation of colonic motility.
  • Inhibition of growth and reproduction.
  • Inhibition of immune function

Assuming stress is resolved, acute activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) presents minimal detrimental effect on the body, however long term activation – adrenal exhaustion and hypo-activation – have been associated with a myriad of disease processes.

Elevated levels of circulating cortisol have a direct inhibitory effect on:

  1. Reproductive axis
  2. Growth hormone release
  3. Thyroid axis

As the body cycles through prolonged or repeated alarm reactions, receptors in the hippocampus become desensitised and damaged and it is unknown if the damage is permanent.  This leads to overproduction of cortisol.

What Can Stress Do?

  • Suppress thyroid function
  • Suppress reproductive function
  • Compromise Immunity
  • Inflammation is Stress – Inflammation caused through oxidative stress, nutritional deficiencies, physical trauma, psychological stress, toxin, insulin resistance
  • Inflammation stimulate the HPA axis – increase the proinflammatory cytokine concentrations in the brain and blood, increasing anxiety and depression
  • Obesity increase stress
  • High physiological level of oestradiol increase concentrations of cortisol
  • The decline of oestrogen and progestins in pregnancy lead postpartum women to experience a greater HPA axis response to stressors.

None of us want to admit we are stressed.  Many people who are stressed out may not be able to identify exactly what is causing them to feel stressed.

Typical presenting symptoms

  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Upset Stomach
  • Digestive disturbances
  • Irritability

What to Do

  • Avoid chemical stress such as alcohol.
  • Omit coffee as it amplifies the cortisol production
  • Include potassium, magnesium and omega 3 foods in your diet.
  • There are certain supplements which are useful in times of stress. (**It is important to note that supplements should be taken under the guidance of a practitioner & are not for long term use.**)
  •  Keep lifestyle changes simple so they are attainable.
  • Find a purpose in your life


Balance and support your nervous system to prevent adrenal responses in your parasympathetic system.

If you have any questions, concerns or would just like further information about how to balance and support your nervous system and manage stress don’t hesitate to reach out and get in touch with us here at Health 4U. Or you can book an appointment with Sinéad through our online booking platform, and together we will help you understand and take control of your hormonal health.

Functional tests can measure your adrenal levels and we can organise this for you at Health 4 U

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