Well Women Network

Stress Hormones 101

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Who doesn’t have stress these days right? I hear it from my patients as well as from my girlfriends almost daily. I don’t know about you but for me when I know how something works and is affecting my body, I can deal with it better and help myself faster. Stress involves the release of hormones that can affect many aspects of your body and mind. To start to understand stress you first need to know what are the three major stress hormones and how they affect your body. No medical degree needed, I promise. All of them are released by your adrenal glands, that sit at the top of your kidney’s, in response to signals from your brain that are triggered when you are under stress.

Ideally, the stress hormones are supposed to prepare you for a real stressor that you need to fight against or flee from. This is called the “fight or flight response.” Nowadays, there are fewer real stressors and more stressor that we can’t do anything about. These stressors lead to the release of hormones that cause negative body responses because they stay constant in the body and result in bodily changes that were evolutionarily meant to be temporary.

Since we are discussing stress today I wanted to give you my tips sheet that has 70 simple doable stress-buster ideas that you can start using today.

The first one is called epinephrine and is released by the adrenal’s in response to a stressor. If the stressor is a sudden thing, such as an averted car accident, you feel the effects of the epinephrine, but it goes away when you realize that everything is all right. When the stressor is chronic, however, there is a problem with ongoing high levels of epinephrine that negatively affect the body.

Now lets take a look at how epinephrine affects your body:

  • It Increases heart rate. This isn’t a dangerous thing over the short haul, but it is a problem when it results in elevated heart rate over time. The heart eventually becomes stressed and has to work harder, leading to damaging effects on the heart.
  • Increases muscle strength. This is also good if you are actually fighting a stressor. It is a bad thing, however, when stress is chronic, and the muscles are left tense and eventually painful. Chronic muscle tension can lead to headaches and body aches that interfere with daily living.
  • Increases blood pressure. Increased blood pressure is never a good thing when it is chronic. Chronic stress can lead to chronic elevations in blood pressure so that there is stress on the heart that can ultimately lead to heart failure or heart attack.
  • Shifts blood from one place to another. Under the effects of epinephrine, blood is carried away from the core of the body and onto the muscles and brain. This allows you to move faster and be stronger during a fight situation. If you aren’t in a real fight situation, the end result is a lack of good blood supply to the digestive tract so that indigestion and gastrointestinal symptoms like cramping, constipation, or diarrhea result.

Before we go on and talk about the last two stress hormones I want you to grab the 70 simple and doable stress-busting tips sheet here, so that you can start using them to help lower your daily stress.

Grab Your Tips

The next stress hormone is called norepinephrine and it is also released by the adrenal glands under situations of increased stress. Norepinephrine and epinephrine are buddies and make up what you may have heard as the “fight or flight response.” It acts a little bit differently on the body then epinephrine, although they are closely related.

Here’s how norepinephrine works on the body:

  • Increases oxygen to the brain. The norepinephrine causes oxygen-bound blood to rush to the brain so that you can think clearly under times of stress.
  • Increases heart rate. This is good in the short run but eventually, an increase in heart rate can stress the heart and can lead to high blood pressure.
  • Increases blood sugar. This provides fuel for muscles in cases of a real fight or flight situation. If there is no real fight or flight situation going on, this elevation in blood sugar is unnecessary and you end up at risk for type 2 diabetes.
  • Increases breath rate. This can be asymptomatic but, in those who have breathing problems already, it can result in breathing problems and chronic shortness of breath.

The last of the players is cortisol. Cortisol is released from the adrenal glands in response to stress. Cortisol has many effects on the body, including raising blood sugar and shutting down the immune system. These things are good for acute stressors but bad for chronic stress. This can put you at higher risk for catching a cold or flu. Over the long haul, it is not a good idea to have an excess of cortisol or any of the stress hormones in the bloodstream but, unfortunately, this is the situation in chronic stress. Listen to our podcast episode #46 to learn about how chronic stress can lead to adrenal fatigue