Nowadays the amount of stimuli and stressors we have to contend with in our day to day lives can be overwhelming. When you consider the fact that over 80% of all disease and illness is stress related, it becomes clear how crucial lowering stress levels can be.

It’s important first of all to make a distinction between ‘good’ stressors, which can be useful and productive, and ‘bad’ stressors, which can be harmful and destructive. A certain amount of tension in the body is necessary to prepare us for life’s challenges. Exercise is an example of a ‘good’ stressor. As long as we can manage the stressor, then it can have a positive effect on our lives. When the stressor becomes chronic or overwhelming however, then it can have the opposite effect.

Hans Selye first made popular the idea of a ‘General Adaptation Syndrome’ or ‘G.A.S.’ in his book, “The Stress of Life.” In it he describes the three stages we go through during a stress response. The first stage is the ‘alarm stage.’  It is here that the body’s ‘flight or flight’ response kicks in via the sympathetic nervous system. Under stress, the body prepares itself to take action by contracting muscles, dilating pupils, elevating glucose and oxygen levels, increasing circulation, and diverting energy stores away from low priority areas, such as the digestive and urinary systems. During the alarm stage, the hypothalamus releases two important neurotransmitters that make these changes possible: epinephrine and norepinephrine.

The second stage is known as the ‘resistance stage’ or adaptation response. During this phase, the body continues to fight off the stressor long after the alarm stage has passed. With the help of the hypothalamus, the pituitary and adrenal glands release cortisol and other corticosteroids into your system. These hormones help to increase blood pressure, cardiac output and gastric secretions by elevating the body’s blood sugar levels. Cortisol has an anti-inflammatory effect but it can also suppress the immune system in varying degrees.

The third and final stage is known as the ‘exhaustion stage.’ Exposure to long-term stress can have damaging effects on the body. If the stress response does not abate, cortisol levels can accumulate in the body and eventually start to weaken the heart, kidneys, adrenals, and blood vessels. The prolonged presence of cortisol can also inhibit the formation of new bone and lead to muscle wasting. It is during this time that the body becomes vulnerable to stress related disorders. Here are a few common stress related disorders:

– Asthma

– Irritable Bowel Syndrome

– Constipation

– Insomnia

– Rheumatoid arthritis

– Gastritis or Ulcers

– Hypertension

– Autoimmune disease

– Ulcerative Colitis

– Eczema

– Depression

– Coronary disease

– Crohn’s disease

– Psoriasis

– Headaches

– Stroke

So how does one maintain a normal and healthy stress response and prevent these conditions from taking hold? The key lies in a preventative care approach to health. Preventative care can take many forms, such as:

– Regular exercise

– A well balanced diet

– Meditation

– Rest & relaxation

– Adequate sleep

– Psychotherapy

– Massage

– Yoga

All these are positive ways in which we can cope with the stresses of our everyday lives. A preventative care approach to health helps create an awareness of our mental and physical well being. It brings balance into our otherwise busy lives.  When we’re in touch with how our bodies feel, we’re better able to detect when something is off or doesn’t feel quite right. This awareness is key. The quicker you can catch something, the quicker you can prevent it from taking hold.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.