When eight of ten Americans report feeling frequently stressed, one might wonder what’s causing so many to feel so stressed out. Per the American Psychological Association, there’s a significant percentage of Americans worried about the future of the country, followed by a high percentage who are worried about finances, work or family responsibilities. Almost half of Americans worry about healthcare, while a third find the economy, unemployment, high taxes and low wages worrisome. Three of four Americans report experiencing high levels of stress during the previous month, almost half have trouble sleeping, and one third feel chronically anxious, irritable or fatigued.
The National Institute of Mental Health simply defines stress as “the brain’s response to any demand.” Stress can be classified as acute (good), tolerable or chronic (toxic). Good stress can occur as the result of a single, short-term event, such as recovery from an illness or injury, or when we rise to a challenge, often with positive outcomes. Tolerable stress refers to a situation where one faces a difficult situation, but is able to cope with support of family, friends or others. Toxic or recurring stress can be the result of adverse life events not within our control, such as managing a chronic illness or dealing with an exceptionally demanding workload. When stress is both intense and sustained over a period to time, it becomes particularly problematic, as long-term stress can cause significant harm to normal and proper body and brain functioning.
Per the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the brain is the central organ of stress and adaptation to stress, as it perceives and determines what is threatening, as well as the behavioral and physiological responses to the stressor. Stress can cause an imbalance of neural circuitry affecting cognition, decision making, anxiety and mood. While it’s well known that chronic stress is detrimental to overall wellness, it now appears that long-term stress and stress related illnesses, such as post traumatic stress disorder, can actually change the physiology of the brain. This can negatively affect brain size, connectivity and mood, and quite possibly memory and cognition down the road. Simply put, persistent stress may actually rewire the brain, strengthening the part of the brain focused on survival and weakening the part of the brain tasked with more complex thought.
Often called the “stress” hormone because of its connection to the stress response, cortisol is actually a steroid hormone critical to protecting overall health and wellbeing. It plays a key role in the sleep/wake cycle, the maintenance of blood sugar levels, energy metabolism, sodium and water balance and blood pressure regulation, as well as the immune system’s inflammatory response. One of the primary functions of our many biological systems is the maintenance of optimal balance or homeostasis. Cortisol aids the body in regaining homeostasis after a stressful event. As cortisol regulates a wide range of bodily processes, almost every cell contains cortisol receptors, including the hippocampus, the region of the brain where memories are processed and stored.
Normal cortisol levels have no adverse effects on the hippocampus, heavily associated with memory, emotion and learning. When chronically high cortisol levels overwhelm the hippocampus, atrophy and significant memory loss may result. Brain patterns may predict how the body physically reacts to stressful situations. Constant stress and the accumulation of stressful life events may make one more vulnerable to brain shrinkage when faced with future intense traumatic stressors, especially when the next demanding situation requires determination or emotional control. Studies have found that chronic stress has a negative impact on spatial memory, as well as memory retrieval. Additionally, an exaggerated stress response could mean a faster heartbeat and higher blood pressure, which can result in negative health consequences in the long run.
While not all stress is unhealthy or avoidable, taking steps to reduce persistent stress may protect brain health as one ages, as well as increase one’s ability to cope when the next stressful event occurs. Working to redirect behavior in more positive directions can help to promote wellness and enjoyment of life. Maximizing the time spent in a resting state can help address long-term elevation of stress-related biological factors. Finding ways to relax, prioritizing sleep, a healthy diet and moderate exercise, as well as social interaction can effectively reduce stress and help one feel more balanced and in control, as well as significantly promote overall health and happiness.
Professional Supplement Center offers these and other high quality formulations to help promote homeostasis and overall wellness:
Cortisol Manager™ by Integrative Therapeutics®: This safe, non-habit forming product provides standardized proprietary blends to help stabilize cortisol levels, thereby supporting a more balanced cortisol response to stress, as well as natural restorative sleep. Gluten, wheat, dairy, yeast, artificial flavor and artificial preservative free, vegan formulation.
HPA Adapt™ by Integrative Therapeutics®: This non-stimulant formula combines five powerful adaptogenic herbs shown to support a healthy stress response, while reducing stress-related fatigue and mental tension. Gluten, wheat, soy and dairy free, vegetarian formulation.
Cortisol Calm by Pure Encapsulations®: This hypoallergenic formula is designed to help maintain healthy cortisol levels, while supporting relaxation, restful sleep and positive mood during stressful times. Gluten and soy free, Non-GMO vegetarian formulation.
Advanced Cortisol Balance by Life Extension: This unique formulation features patented ingredients to support healthy cortisol levels, thereby promoting a healthy stress response, healthy mood and a sense of vigor. Non-GMO formulation.
Diurnal Cortisol Test by Professional Supplement Center Test Kits: This four panel adrenal function hormone test kit provides a full diurnal cortisol profile at four points during the day. This test is recommended for stress, chronic fatigue and/or symptoms of adrenal imbalance. Saliva collection instructions, prepaid shipping and all materials for the test included, as well as a 15- minute in person or phone consultation with one of Professional Supplement Center’s health professionals to discuss test results.
By the numbers: Our stressed-out nation. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/12/numbers.aspx
The Mind and Mental Health: How Stress Affects the Brain. http://www.tuw.edu/content/health/how-stress-affects-the-brain/
Chronic Stress Can Damage Brain Structure and Connectivity. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201402/chronic-stress-can-damage-brain-structure-and-connectivity
Inflammation: The Common Pathway of Stress-Related Diseases. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5476783/
Effects of Chronic Stress on Memory Decline in Cognitively Normal and Mildly Impaired Older Adults. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2864084/
Neurobiological and Systemic Effects of Chronic Stress. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5573220/
Protect Your Brain from Stress. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/protect-your-brain-from-stress