What Stress really is
by Peter Thompson
The stress response (SR) is an important regulative and protective mechanism that our bodies utilize continuously throughout our lives. It is one of the tools our bodies use to regulate our internal systems (homeostasis) and adapt to our external surroundings. The fundamental requirement of life is to maintain a constant internal environment no matter how much the externl environment is changing.
Selye in the 1930’s to 1950’s coined the term ‘stress’ in relation to physiological processes to describe ‘the non-specific response of the body to any demand’. This definition identifies the key factor that ‘stress’ is our response to demands placed upon it, not the external event itself.
Whether the event (stressor) that required a response is pleasant or not is irrelevant to the stress (response) that manifests in the body. The important variable is the intensity of demand and the body’s ability to meet that demand. The so called ‘fear, flight or fight response’ is our non-specific response to stress. It involves strong activation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Blood is diverted to the brain and skeletal muscles getting us ready for action, hearing and vision are attenuated, digestion is slowed, hormones are released including activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the sympatho-adrenal system is stimulated. These responses activate the body and improve the chances of survival in a crisis.
Persistent, excessive, long term stimulation of this type results in changes in the brain’s ability to maintain homeostasis. In addition, chronic overproduction of hormones and neurotransmitters will cause the target organ/tissues to become resistant to their intended effects. This will inevitably lead to organ/system dysfunction and disease.
Immunological disorders, chronic inflammatory disease, metabolic disease, obesity, diabetic insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, atherosclerosis, cognitive disorders, depression, substance abuse and chronic pain syndromes are examples of conditions that may be associated with prolonged stimulation of the SR.
So, the lesson learned is to reduce the intensity of stressors and minimize the time we are exposed to these stressors. Easier said than done, perhaps!
At least we can have a shot at managing stressors in our lives and to reduce their impact by firstly recognizing their existence, then thoroughly dealing with them (where possible) as they emerge. This may be by changing lifestyle factors, eating food that has not been stripped of it’s energy and goodness, clearing up musculo-skeletal problems, addressing metabolic dysfunction, resolving personal social disharmony, the list goes on.
Foods That Boost Stress Reserves
This is where food as medicine really shows its power! Oats are a beautiful remedy when it comes to feeding and nourishing the nervous system. They will assists in building strength to handle any form of stress, and are fantastic to reduce anxiety. Starting your day off with porridge is one of the best ways to support the nervous system through food.
Nourishes and supports the adrenal glands. Food sources: Citrus fruits, capsicum (raw), kiwi fruit, papaya, broccoli, tomatoes.
Great for healthy brains and nerve cells. Food sources – Avocado, wholegrains, seeds, cottage cheese, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, mushrooms, legumes, leafy green vegetables.