Is Your Stress Response Destroying Your Health?

A story of fight or flight, chronic pain, and ultimately healing.

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I thought, “Everyone is overworked. It’s normal to be stressed or so tired that you feel sick, right? It’s nothing that a 5-shot latte can’t fix.”

As an abuse survivor, I had a history of living in high-stress environments.

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Photo by Yuris Alhumaydy on Unsplash

But with extra time on my hands, I stopped looking for a cure from mainstream medicine and began to read, research, and conduct my own clinical trials with different supplements and vitamins.

I also started thinking about pain and brain chemistry.

I decided that if nothing could abate the severe pain, then I could at least figure out which brain neurotransmitters were involved in signaling the pain response, and if I could figure this out then I could come up with a way to lessen the pain through a process of elimination.

So I learned about brain chemicals specifically, like Norepinephrine, Glutamate, Serotonin, Dopamine, and GABA.

I educated myself on the symptoms produced when each chemical was either low or high.

Through a process of elimination, I came to the conclusion that increasing levels of the norepinephrine chemical could possibly help my severe pain.

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Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

I started to see an improvement in energy and began to think about how to increase oxygenation in muscles to improve function and decrease pain.

After more research, I decided to improve my breathing habits, meditate, and eat green vegetables and iron-rich foods.

I knew that I was in a constant state of stress due to the pain, so to start, I selected supplements that promoted a healthy stress response and energy level.

I tried each for 6 months and recorded the positive and negative effects of each supplement.

I was still in constant pain (a level 6 or 7 instead of a 9), but armed with new knowledge and slight improvement, I started to feel hope for the first time in years.

I continued to read and research different pain conditions and decided to try trigger point therapy to increase muscle oxygenation along with a nutritional and supplement protocol.

But I found a way out of the vicious cycle that the fight-or-flight response can create. And while it hasn’t been an easy process, I learned, studied, and persevered through extremely challenging circumstances.

So, with a hopeful eye to the future, here is everything else I know about the fight-or-flight response, along with practical ways to improve health.

What is a fight-or-flight response? The physiological process.

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The science behind it:

The fight-or-flight response is a reaction to acute stress and occurs in the presence of something that is terrifying, either mentally or physically.

The physiological response:

What we perceive to be a stressful situation causes an avalanche of stress hormones that induce important physiological changes.

This synthesis of physiological reactions is called the fight-or-flight response because it enabled humans and some mammals to either fight or quickly flee from harmful situations.

These natural hormonal changes and bodily responses have helped our species survive life-threatening circumstances.

The specific physiology of fight-or-flight:

Our reaction to stress starts in the brain.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

When we perceive danger or a threat to our well-being, such as witnessing a crime or a near-fatal car accident, our senses — mainly the ears and eyes — send an important message to the amygdala, our emotional processing center.

Our amygdala decodes the sights and sounds, and if any danger is recognized, this part of the brain quickly sends an alert signal to the hypothalamus.

If you’ve experienced flooding of adrenaline, you know that it tends to happen very quickly before the body and mind realize what is taking place.

It’s a powerful survival mechanism and is so systematized that this process can occur before the senses have even become aware of the danger. It’s what happens when a mother quickly jumps into action to save her child during an accident, purely on instinct.

But when our system is continually stressed with chronic worries and perceived dangers, the HPA axis is continually activated and health problems begin to occur.

Over time, unrelenting adrenaline spikes can damage arteries and blood vessels, raising the risk of stroke and heart attacks.

Two techniques to mitigate the fight-or-flight response:

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Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

Sometimes a combination of relaxation-promoting tools is necessary to effectively lessen the fight-or-flight response.

1. 4–7–8 breathing

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Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

2. Physical Exercise

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Photo by Chander R on Unsplash

I write about self-development, healing, psychology, philosophy, spirituality, animal advocacy & neuroscience. AuroraMEliam@gmail.com

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