Causes and Effects of Stress

Whether something is stressful or not depends on how your emotional structure perceives a given situation or set of circumstances. When the emotional system in your brain tells it there’s an impending threat, your brain responds by releasing a series of defensive hormones; adrenaline, norepinephrine (noradrenaline) and cortisol.

Adrenaline is a sugar substitute. Norepinephrine helps with alertness and focus. Cortisol acts to hold back systems not needed to ward off or avoid the stressor.

The brains primary response to stress includes all three hormones, but is intended to function for a short period of time. Accordingly, Adrenaline and Norepinephrine have a limited life span.  But if the stressor remains your brain goes to a default response and continues to introduce Cortisol into your blood.

When Cortisol is the only stress hormone remaining in your blood it becomes toxic attacking and damaging neurons and tissue, creating inflammation and interfering with cell function. Cortisol also continues to reroute blood and hold back functioning elements of the brain not considered useful in defeating the stressor.  That includes the hippocampus. The element in the brain essential for memory and learning.

Acute (short term) Stress

Acute stress results from specific events or situations that involve change, whose contents are unpredictable, pose a limited threat to the ego, or are involved with achievement. A set of circumstances, or situation, that produces Acute, or short term, stress has a predictable end. Acute stress can be good for you because the stress hormones released help your mind and body focus on the stressor, and expands your ability to deal with similar stressful circumstances in the future.

Chronic (long term) Stress

Chronic stress results from repeated, or continued, exposure to circumstances or situations that are continually changing, are unpredictable, emotionally demanding, pose a continuing threat to the ego, have indefinite or unlimited time horizons and are typically out of the individuals control.

During chronic stress Cortisol is the only stress hormone remaining in your blood. It becomes toxic attacking and damaging neurons and tissue, creating inflammation and interfering with cell function, all at random.  Cortisol will also continue to reroute blood and hold back functioning elements of the brain not considered useful in defeating the stressor.  That includes the hippocampus, the element of the brain essential for memory and learning.  Chronic stress can also reduce the production of Serotonin, the feel good hormone which can lead to depression.

There are a series of things you can do when dealing with chronic stress. Try to withdraw mentally from the situation by becoming an objective observer. If you can’t do that you have to ask yourself whether you can remove yourself physically and mentally (flee) from the situation. If the source of the chronic stress comes from a close personal relationship, your job, or because you’re a caregiver and can’t withdraw from the situation there are other things you can do.

  1. Physical exercise
  2. Meditation
  3. Foods you eat and drink

Are always excellent ways to minimize stress.