It’s a fact of a life that everyone experiences stress from time to time. It’d be almost impossible to juggle the demands of your family, work, and social life without feeling a degree of stress.
But, stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it comes in small doses. Stress can actually heighten our senses and sharpen our minds during difficult or trying situations.
The internal response to stress, also known as “fight or flight” acts like an emergency response system to external pressures. We can think of the stress response like a survival mechanism that helps us endure physical or emotional trauma. The stress response helps us deal with small challenges like being late to a meeting or daunting obstacles like the passing of a loved one.
However, hyperstimulation of the stress response can lead to significant short-term and long-term health issues for you or your patients. Our bodies undergo physiological and psychological changes when responding to acute and chronic stress. As a result, an overstimulated stress response is bad for your patient’s physical and mental well-being.
The body’s response to stress takes place in three progressive stages: Alarm, Resistance and Exhaustion. What does the body experience during each of these stages?
Stage 1: The Alarm or Early Stage
In this initial stage, the body’s adrenal glands release stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. These powerful stress hormones stimulate the nervous system in order to help the body and mind deal with an immediate threat.
Adrenal glands can become overworked when frequently stimulated by physical or emotional stress. Patients in this stage of stress response might complain of feeling “tired but wired.” Early stage stress response leads to a cascade of short-term physical changes including rapid breathing, elevated heart rate, tightened muscles, altered digestive function, constricted blood vessels and anxiousness.
Routine exercise may help your patient consume excess or nervous energy. You can also recommend the following nutrients to help manage stress during the Alarm stage. Those nutrients include:
- Ashwaganhda – This ancient herb contains
- active constituents known as withanolides that support adrenal gland function and a healthy stress response.
- L-Theanine – An amino acid that helps trigger the release of neurotransmitters like GABA to support stress reduction and relaxation.
- Phosphatidylserine – This phospholipid contains amino and fatty acids, including EPA and DHA to support hormone section by the adrenal glands.
Stage 2: The Resistance Stage
The Alarm stage is recognizable in a person that is dealing with acute stress or an immediate threat. Acute stress triggers the “fight or flight” response before cortisol and other hormones can return to normal levels.
The second or Resistance stage arises when the body is forced to deal with recurring stress and the constant flow of cortisol. A near constant state of arousal or stimulation places significant demands on the endocrine system. A patient in the resistance phase may complain of an incessant state of alertness or feeling “stressed out”.
In this stage, your patient may begin to have an increased appetite with cravings for carbohydrates. This so-called “stress eating” is due to elevated cortisol levels in the bloodstream and can result in weight gain, increased body fat or obesity.
Patients should be encouraged to make healthier food choices and exercise frequently among other stress management strategies. These recommended nutrients can support stress management in this stage:
- Rhodiola – This herb known as a “golden root” can help burn fat, reduce energy and boost energy by lowering cortisol levels.
- ETAS™ - A proprietary extract from asparagus that helps alleviates the effects of stress by controlling the levels of cortisol.
Stage 3: Exhaustion or Late Stage
Lastly, the body devolves into a state of complete and utter exhaustion without the ability to recover from stress.
Your patient may experience “adrenal fatigue” as the endocrine system cannot keep up with the constant demand for cortisol. This state of persistent stress lead to a change in brain chemistry and symptoms of fatigue, lethargy, low pulse, impaired cognition and anxiety.
Hyperstimulation of the stress response can also affect cardiovascular and metabolic function along with many of these patients showing signs of thyroid dysfunction, pre-diabetes and insulin resistance. During this stage, these key nutrients are recommended to support stress management.
- Eleuthero - Supports specific enzymes that impact the adrenal gland’s production and supply of hormones, specifically catecholamines (Braun & Cohen, 2015).
- Vitamin B5 – Supports cellular respiration and breakdown of macronutrients for energy.
- Vitamin B12 – Supports energy production, repairing of cells and maintenance of red blood cells.
- Vitamin C – Plays a key role in the production of cortisol by the adrenal glands.
Managing stress is a problem that all of us will face at one point or another. If left untreated, chronic stress can lead to significant, long-term health problems. Intervening early is critically important to help your patients properly deal with stress and encourage positive outcomes.