When we have stress in our life, our brain receives a signal that registers alarm. When this alarm bell is rung, there are many actions that take place, one of them being the release of hormones that will create a response.
These hormones are specific in affecting certain aspects of our body to allow us to react to the stressor. For example, epinephrine and norepinephrine are two hormones that when released increase our heart rate and blood pressure. Having an increased heart rate and blood pressure allows us to act quickly to avoid an event that we believe to be fatal such as running away from a bear.
Cortisol is another hormone that increases with increased stress. Cortisol affects sleep patterns, slows wound healing, can decrease cartilage and bone formation, inhibit your immune system, increase fat storage creating weight gain, affect heart function and digestion.
Aldosterone is a hormone needed when you are exercising but if you are dealing with increased emotional and mental stress without physical activity the long term effect will create high blood pressure.
Our stress response system is designed to react to a stressor with an appropriate response but if we have continued stress over time and those events are unresolved, stress related diseases can occur.
Situation: Parent worried about adolescent child who comes home 2 hours late.
- Anger; first 15 minutes; epinephrine and norepinephrine; results in increase in fight-or-flight response and increased sympathetic activity.
- Worry; next 30 minutes; with increase in anxiety, still supporting continuance of hormone response.
- Increased worry; next 60 minutes; shift to cortisol release; resulting in inability to sleep
- Recurring anger; 15 minutes; epinephrine and norepinephrine with aldosterone increase; results in increased fight-or-flight response and increased sympathetic activity with rise in blood pressure.
- Child comes home and is met by an angry and worried parent.
- Inability of parent to sleep the rest of the night because of increased cortisol levels.
- Fatigue the next day with irritability and a dull headache caused by effects of increased cortisol and aldosterone levels.
- Because of increased cortisol and aldosterone levels, parent has suppressed immune function and catches a cold 3 days later.
Mosby’s Essential Sciences for Therapeutic Massage; Sandy Fritz, M.James Grosenbach;2004;(193-196)