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Managing the Body’s Stress Response – An Integrative Approach

Stress is a normal part of life. You can experience stress from your environment, your body, and your thoughts.

•43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.

•75% to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related   ailments and complaints.

•The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the workplace. Stress costs American industry more than $300 billion annually.

•The lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.

The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive, keeping us alert and ready to avoid danger. Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between challenges. As a result, our body goes into distress- a negative stress reaction.  Distress can lead to physical symptoms including headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, and problems sleeping. Research suggests that stress also can bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases. A chronic overreaction to stress overloads the brain with powerful hormones that are intended only for short-term duty in emergency situations. The main hormone related to stress is Cortisol. Cortisol is an important hormone in the body, secreted by the adrenal glands and involved in the following functions:

•Proper glucose metabolism

•Regulation of blood pressure

•Insulin release for blood sugar maintanence

•Immune function

•Inflammatory response

Normally, cortisol is present in the body at higher levels in the morning, and at its lowest at night. Although stress isn’t the only reason that cortisol is secreted into the bloodstream, it has been termed “the stress hormone” because it’s also secreted in higher levels during the body’s fight or flight response to stress, and is responsible for several stress-related changes in the body.

While cortisol is an important and helpful part of the body’s response to stress, it’s important that the body’s relaxation response be activated so the body’s functions can return to normal following a stressful event. Unfortunately, in our current high-stress culture, the body’s stress response is activated so often that the body doesn’t always have a chance to return to normal, resulting in a state of chronic stress. Higher and more prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream have been shown to have negative effects causing illness and disease.

It is extremely important to keep stress levels in check and take conscious, pro active steps to return the body to homeostasis. At The Center for Natural and Integrative Medicine, we offer testing for hormones such as cortisol so you can identify where your levels are and take appropriate action. We also offer Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction series of classes as well as massage therapy and yoga to aid in relaxation.

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