The Toll of Fight or Flight over time
Humans can adapt to a wide range of environments, physical and
emotional. But that adaptation comes at a cost. Our high
alert system, perfectly suited to short times of intense stress, such
as finding a tiger in our camp, can eventually turn against us.
The same hormones that accelerate heart rate and blood pressure to prepare us to run from danger can predispose us to a wide range of illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, depression hypertension and hardening of the arteries if sustained at high levels over time.
In the short run, our stress hormones, cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenalin, raise heart and metabolic rates, make our brains work more efficiently, and improve our immune system’s ability to fight infection.
After prolonged or repeated stress, the fight or flight response becomes impaired. The body produces the same hormones, but loses the ability to regulate them properly. Hormones can spike at random, disturbing sleep. High levels of stress hormones suppress the immune system, cause damage to memory centers, increase the production of inflammation, and change our metabolism to favor fat storage around the abdomen.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
If you think you have health problems related to long term stress, start by committing to four changes. You may take on one new one per week:
Eat a healthy balanced diet, see diet section
Develop a network of people who care about you, support you and make you laugh
Get regular moderate, not strenuous exercise.
Adopt a relaxation technique
Over time the adrenal glands, producers of stress hormones, can tire, or burn out, resulting in fatigue, abdominal weight gain and sleep disturbances. These symptoms can mimic hypothyroidism and other endocrine problems. Current research indicates that, because of the variations in adrenal hormone levels during the course of the day, and because everyone's stress hormones change differently when they have blood drawn, it is best to test for adrenal insufficiency using saliva. Samples are collected at several times throughout the day. these tests are generally covered by your insurance if the diagnosis is adrenal insufficiency.
Medical treatments for adrenal insufficiency include increasing salt in the diet, and sometimes replacing missing stress hormones for a time. While these interventions may help, it is also essential to replace missing nutrients and remove oneself from or changing one's reaction to the stressors that could be causing or exacerbating the problem. For chronic stress, mind-body techniques are usually most effective.
Adrenal Hormones overview Link