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Chronic Stress

It is important to acknowledge that every human being feels stress in some form to some degree every day, though many of us do live in partial denial. Our sleeplessness, high blood pressure, our exhaustion, our irritability, over-indulging, our anxiety and depression, our stiff joints and tight muscles, can all just be symptoms of minute stress episodes that accumulate throughout the day. Many of us live in a world where we are constantly on the go regardless of our place in it or how successful we may feel to be. We don’t always see eye to eye with everyone or everything in it. By failing to recognize the stress in and around you, you miss the opportunity to reduce its negative influence.

The reality is, that most people do not see a connection between stress and their health. Stress can be paralyzing and even deadly. Day-to-day anxieties, depression, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, eczema, and even digestive complaints can all be side effects of stress. Stress often leads to overindulgence of food and drink, which only feeds into the unhealthy nature of chronic disease and chronic stress which then become entwined.

Chronic stress can even lead to severe depression. In the medical literature, it is called Dysthymia, or Dysthymic Depression. This depression is different from the typical depression that requires antidepressants. Dysthymic depression is linked to severe or extended stress that results in the depletion of our leading central nervous system (CNS) stress neurotransmitter norepinephrine. Medications can be helpful for some, but research supports alternative therapies to also be more effective in resolving dysthymic depression resulting from chronic stress.

Behind the scenes, stress is diagnosed with either an elevated or irregular circadian rhythm of cortisol or the neurotransmitters adrenaline and noradrenaline. By the time uncontrolled stress is discovered, it has created havoc on the neuroendocrine and immune systems. The first system to manage stress is the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis or HPA axis for short. This system secretes cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline in both short-term and chronic stress states. If they are produced in sufficient amounts we are able to handle and recover from the stress and maintain normal functioning. If the initiating stressors become chronic, then cortisol or adrenaline may remain chronically elevated, putting the whole body into an ongoing fight or flight stress response. This state of stress response has negative consequences on our energy, sleep quality, and immune system. In a state of immunosuppression, past viral or bacterial infections may reactivate (as expressed in elevations of antibodies in labs) and lead to fatigue. This fatigue further exacerbates the stress response, because it takes energy to handle stress. One of the long-term consequences of unrelenting fatigue and stress is that both cortisol and adrenaline are eventually depleted, leading to adrenal fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Adrenal fatigue is exacerbated by the fact that it may begin to not only deplete adrenaline and cortisol but also nor-epinephrine as well. Norepinephrine is the brain’s main neurotransmitter, designed to support us against stress and allow us to recover. Maintenance and recovery of nor-adrenaline is a priority for the body and if insufficient it appears to create a disconnect in the Autonomic Nervous System. This ANS dysregulation is like a circuit disruption between the brain and the peripheral stress endocrine organs which have been overloaded. This overloaded circuit appears to cause a disconnect between the lines of communication from the brain to the periphery, similar to that of a breaker that supports the electric circuit of a home once being overloaded switches off to protect the circuitry.

Our approach starts with restoring energy levels by assessing and addressing both cortisol and neurotransmitter levels. If fatigue is present, immune function should be assessed and treatment of reactivated latent viral or bacterial infections will improve energy and maximize stress response. A program improving energy and endocrine and neurotransmitter levels allows one to most effectively respond to heart rate training (HRV) and brain regeneration therapies (Neurofeedback, FSM, PBM) and restore the normal stress response.