Stress: Did you know?

July 12, 2008 at 11:48 am 1 comment

Here’s something interesting I learned while at Timberlawn Hospital: Did you know that when you feel stressed, your digestive, reproductive, and immune systems shut down? The pre-frontal cortex in your brain — the part designed for rational thinking — shuts down too!

Here’s why: Most of us have heard of the “Fight or Flight” (sometimes “fight, flight, or freeze”) response. This is what happens to us when we feel that our survival is threatened — if we experience an attack by human or animal, a fire, a tornado, or a similar potentially fatal situation. Stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, are released and trigger reactions throughout the organs and tissues. The body prepares to fight or run away by shutting down systems it considers to be not essential to the current crisis, and boosting systems that are essential.

This is terrific when there is actual threat to survival of ourselves or others. A mother may have ‘superhuman’ strength to lift a car pinning her child. A middle-aged man runs a long distance quickly although he is normally winded by a flight of stairs. A nurse or doctor works 40 hours straight to save earthquake victims.

But what if, due to some malfunction in the danger alert system, the hormones are being released too often, when there is no actual threat? The digestive, reproductive, and immune systems, along with the pre-frontal cortex, switch on and off frequently and chaotically. The malfunction that causes this is usually a distorted perspective on danger, possibly resulting from past trauma or disruptions of brain chemicals such as bipolar disorder or depression.

…to be continued

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Entry filed under: bipolar. Tags: , , , .

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