The Anatomy of Stress

By Matt Brereton-Patel May 24, 2015 December 13th, 2019 No Comments

Stress is not only a huge factor in weight loss, but also many of life’s degenerative diseases. Understand your enemy


There’s plenty of talk these days about stress, its effects on the human body, and the way we think, feel and behave. If you want to learn more about stress, its effects, and what to do about it, read on. In this article we’re going to take a closer look at stress and find out what actually happens both short and long term when we’re subjected to it.


So what is stress?

Stress can be either positive or negative. Positive stress is a product of activities and situations we choose to become involved in because we enjoy them, and find them challenging in a rewarding way. Positive stress strengthens us and drives us forward in life.

Negative stresses are those which are imposed upon us and which we feel powerless to control. These kinds of stresses weaken us mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.


The history of negative stress

The term ‘stress’ was first used in the 1930’s by a Canadian endocrinologist called Hans Selye, who is widely regarded to have been the first person to demonstrate the existence of biological stress. Dr Selye concluded that various stressors produced a common biochemical response in the human body, and called the symptoms of this response General Adaptive Syndrome.


Stress summates…

The various negative stressors we refer to above are diverse: poor diet and nutrition, poor posture, lack of exercise, toxic overload, emotional stress, relationships, physical injury and overexertion, lack of sleep, overuse of stimulants, recreational and pharmaceutical drugs, being too hot or too cold, noise, too much or too little food and sunshine, and hormone imbalances, plus many more. They all ‘summate’, producing a single biochemical response in your body.


The sympathetic nervous system response

When these stimuli activate our sympathetic nervous system (SNS – our ‘fight or flight’ mechanism) a number of important hormones are released which have a huge number of effects in your body.

An active SNS stimulates the secretion of hormones and neurotransmitters such as adrenalin and noradrenalin. These serve to dilate your pupils (enhancing vision), inhibit secretions from the lachrymal and salivary glands, accelerate your heart rate and force of cardiac contraction, increases glucose release in the liver, inhibits gastric, pancreatic and digestive tract activity, and dilates the bronchi of the lungs in addition to diverting blood flow to the muscles.


Sympathetic nervous system dominance and physiological effects

This is all part of what nature intended, so that in times of danger our dilated pupils would enhance our vision, muscles supplied with blood are ready for physical exertion – fight or flight, the bronchial tubes of the lungs are dilated ready for increased respiration and your heart is working harder to make all of these things happen. At the same time your digestive tract and a number of other processes are being re-prioritised and switched off.

That’s pretty cool when you have to run for a bus (or get out the way of one!), or defend yourself.

But what happens when your SNS is always switched on? Well, many of our hormone producing glands, like our adrenal glands (or perhaps more accurately our HPA axis), get tired, our immune system becomes severely weakened, our ability to digest and assimilate food is compromised, chronic inflammation and high cholesterol take hold, insomnia sets in and your body begins to store fat as a defence mechanism.

If you’re trying to lose weight, feel full of energy and perform better at home and work, a constantly switched on SNS is your worst nightmare. And that’s the good news. The premature onset of degenerative disease, chronic fatigue and a host of other health issues are also pretty likely to result. Here’s a snippet from a study we came across a few years ago:

‘Blood tests showed that a chemical called Interleukin-6 sharply increased in the blood of the stressed caregivers compared with blood of the others in the test. Previous studies have associated IL-6 with several diseases, including heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, type-2 diabetes and certain cancers.’(1,2)


The parasympathetic nervous system

The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is your best friend if you’re SNS dominant, but you have to make sure you get dedicated ‘down time’ so that its ‘rest, digest and relax’ processes can return your body to a state of balance, or homeostasis. That’s why we’re such big fans of meditation and plenty of ‘me’ time at Optimised Personal Wellness.

The PNS opposes the processes of the SNS, reversing many of the physiological processes, such as increased heart rate, we mentioned above. A balanced nervous system will mean you feel, look and perform better, and live longer.

We recommend taking at least 10 minutes out of each day, plus one day each week, just to do the things you like, spend some time alone, maybe even meditate or take a yoga class, and generally recharge your batteries.

Re-learning to breathe properly (and deeply) will also go a long way to helping you, as will making time to move your body, get a massage, and sort out any relationships and money problems that are causing you stress.


To your lean, healthy, optimised future,

Matt & Dee





2. Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K., Preacher, K.J, MacCulom, R.C., Atkinson, C. Malarkey, W.B., & Glaser, R. (2003). Chronic stress and age-related increases in the proinflammatory cytokine IL-6. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online, 100, 9090-9095.

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