THE STRESS RESPONSE FROM A BIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE

The stress response is a strictly coordinated, finely tuned biological process.

Any influence on the body which threatens to upset its equilibrium is a stress factor which initiates a stress response, irrespective of whether the stress factors are of a physical or psychological nature.

 

Generally the stress response occurs subconsciously. Extreme situations in particular require a perfectly coordinated biological stress response. That response is activated, controlled, and curbed by the immune system, the central nervous system with its sensomotoric elements, the autonomous nervous system (sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system) and hormones like glucocorticoids and catecholamines. All of these systems interact and have a reciprocal effect on one another. They are referred to in their entirety as the stress system.

This astonishing network of multi-layered, interconnected regulatory cycles is modulated externally by perceptions and associated interpretations, by molecules and microbes that constantly exert pressure on the immune system via the mucous membranes of the intestines and lungs, and by a host of stimuli inside the body such as blood pressure, body temperature and blood sugar levels.

The brain regulates, controls and coordinates the basic activities of our body and the stress response process. Special centres within the central nervous system (CNS) fulfil those roles. To some extent they are measuring centres that constantly analyse both target and actual levels. Once again there are positive and negative feedback loops and a host of different regulatory cycles between these centres ensuring the precise sequence and adjustment of processes at the periphery of the body. The activities of the immune system are controlled and curbed by the autonomous nervous system. These processes occur in real time. Like the CNS, cortisol control loops contribute to the process of curbing excessive immune reactions. The cortisol system is therefore always highly active during periods of stress. Because of its immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory effect, cortisone is also a popular choice of therapy. Many of you will have already experienced the pain-killing effects of cortisone.

The stress response process within the human body

The stress response follows strict rules. The organism does not really care of the cause triggering the stress response. The course of events remains the same. The response only differs in its intensity.

1. A typical stimulus pattern that activates the stress system

2. The processes that control the stress response follow straight away, within the first minute.

3. The balance is restored. This may take several days.

Following a brief active phase, during a stress response all systems therefore strive to keep the stress response under control. Otherwise inflammation that constantly occurs in, for instance, the mucose membranes of the stomach and bowel, the bronchial tubes and lungs or during muscular activity, would spread throughout the body. Depending on a person's genetic disposition, the door is thus wide open to all kinds of disease when someone is under stress.

The burnout is thriving on a chronic inflammation as well. The healing efforts of the stress system are futile.

BURNOUT AND CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROM

Inflammation with no measurable evidence

 

Many health problems are the result of an overloaded stress system. Under the influence of chronic stress, the body can no longer come to rest. A wide range of disease symptoms may appear without doctors being able to detect anything during a medical examination.

Readings are often inconclusive and unable to pinpoint the cause of the illness. Such symptoms initially stem from regulatory disorders and are often diagnostically undetectable, yet the deterioration in well-being and impaired performance will certainly be felt by the person concerned.

Inflammation without measurable evidence

Anyone who makes light of functional disorders and exhaustion symptoms and continues to put pressure on themselves without allowing for appropriate recovery periods can soon find themselves suffering from burnout or chronic fatigue syndrome. Stress-processing systems cause fatigue due to the permanent strain the body is subjected to. Immunity becomes weakened. Allergies and infections tend to flare up, tissue repair failures occur, or an a-topic eczema may be triggered or exacerbated. The autonomous nervous system reacts by malfunctioning in some way, which may manifest itself in the form of blood pressure problems, heart palpitations or irritable bowel syndrome.

The characteristic symptoms of a general feeling of illness may appear: fluctuating body temperatures, loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, tiredness, exhaustion, lack of motivation, headaches, joint pain or even back pain.

It is generally hard to detect the reasons for such illnesses – which are fundamentally caused by an overloaded stress system – in a person's medical history. Since that system is part of such a complex network, detecting regulatory loop problems is still more a matter of chance rather than the outcome of a targeted medical examination. The appropriate treatment options are therefore to be found in holistic therapy approaches such as Biestmilch, herbal mixtures of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or acupuncture. But whether they start working where the regulatory disorder began is something that can only be determined by trying them out. In any case, you should always take the warning signs of your own body seriously.