Stress & Illness

In order to determine how stress and illnesses are connected we must understand stress and how it affects your body.

What is Stress? 

  • Stress  is a non-specific response to any demand placed on the body

    Two types of Stress
  1. Distress – Harmful stress
    • Stress that overexerts the body
  1. Eustress – Good stress
    • Stress that has a positive effect on the body

Causes of Stress

  • Emotions
  • Pain
  • Excessive intake of stimulants – coffee intake, drugs
  • Pathologies
  • Environmental exposures – excessive heat or cold, pollution, noise

How a person responds to stress depends on the type of stressors and how the person reacts to the stressors.

It also depends on the degree and duration of the stress.

There is a connection between emotional stress and the body’s limbic system. (Where the brain integrates emotional states and physiology of muscles and organs. It’s in the emotional centre of the brain.     For example anxiety can increase a person’s body temperature, body weight and appetite.)

Stress has a very general reaction that it creates in the body which is called the “General Adaptation Syndrome) AKA GAS

General Adaptation Syndrome – GAS

  1. Alarm Reaction
  2. Adaptation Stage/Resistance Reaction
  3. Exhaustion

1. Alarm Reaction

  • At the onset of stress the body initiates a Fight or Flight (red alert) reaction
  • This is the body’s attempt to mobilize the resources it has to deal with the stress (Whether real or perceived the body reacts the same)
  • Adrenaline/epinephrine is secreted into the blood by the adrenal medulla and directly onto the target tissues by the sympathetic nerves 
    1. Increased heart rate and therefore more blood to active muscles
    2. Respiratory dilation (increased lung capacity)
    3. Vasoconstriction to regions of the body not needed immediately
  • Metabolic Shift to break down energy stores (ATP is generated for muscle energy)
  • Cooling Response – increased sweating

2. Adaptation Stage/Resistance Reaction

During this stage the body will produce an excess amount of cortisol (breaks down fats to release energy and reduces inflammation) then it will adapt to the stress by decreasing cortisol and decrease the alarm response.

(CORTISOL – inhibits certain parts of your immune response which makes getting sick easier) 

3. Exhaustion Stage 

Your body becomes overwhelmed and has a depletion of energy for other bodily systems; such as the immune system and this is possible why we get sick when or after we go through a lot of stress. 

Body Systems Affected During stress 

  • Automnomic Nervous System
    • Parasympathetic and Sympathetic Nervous System
  • Endocrine System
    • Produces hormones
  • Limbic System
    • Emotional Centre of the Brain
  • Reticular Activating System
    • Found in the upper brain stem and the lower end of the diencephalon
      • The part of the brain that regulates mm tone
  • Musculoskeletal System
    • Stress causes an increase of gamma neuron firing resulting in an increase in tone of the mms 


  • Apical (Shallow) breathing
  • Insomnia 
  • Bruxism (Grinding of teeth)
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Decrease in immune response
  • Increase in production of cortisol
  • GI System (Consipation, diarrhea, IBS)
  • Postural problems
  • Emotional habits such as: pacing, biting nails
  • Short attention span
  • Thirst
  • Headaches
  • Hypertonic (overly toned) mms
  • Exhaustion
  • Pain

Stress Reduction Techniques

  • Better nutrition including supplements
    • Ashwagandha is an herb used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat stress and anxiety. Several studies suggest that it’s effective
    • Green tea contains many polyphenol antioxidants which provide health benefits. It may lower stress and anxiety by increasing serotonin levels
    • Kava kava is a psychoactive member of the pepper family. Long used as a sedative in the South Pacific, it is increasingly used in Europe and the US to treat mild stress and anxiety
    • Lemon balm is a member of the mint family that has been studied for its anti-anxiety effects
    • Valerian root is a popular sleep aid due to its tranquilizing effect. It contains valerenic acid, which alters gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors to lower anxiety.
      (Some supplements can interact with medications or have side effects, so you may want to consult with a doctor if you have a medical condition.)
  • Reduce Caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, tea, chocolate and energy drinks. High doses can increase anxiety.
  • Meditation to soft music, candles, hot bath etc.
    • Using essential oils or burning a scented candle may help reduce your feelings of stress and anxiety.Some scents are especially soothing. Here are some of the most calming scents:
      • Bergamot
      • Frankincense
      • Geranium
      • Lavender
      • Neroli
      • Orange blossom
      • Roman chamomile
      • Rose
      • Sandalwood
      • Vetiver
      • Ylang ylang
    • Listening to music can have a very relaxing effect on the body. Slow-paced instrumental music can activate the parasympathetic nervous system and help lower blood pressure and heart rate as well as release anti-stress hormones.
  • Deep breathing techniques Ie Jacobson’s (relax each body part in order from the toes up while focusing on specific areas and tensing and then relaxing them, you can become more aware of your body and physical sensations.)
  • Better Posture – Your body’s position can greatly influence your mind, mood and stress level. Studies have shown that your mood/mind set follows your physiology and that by changing your physiology your mood/mindset will change almost instantaneously. Ie. If you are in a negative state (decreased mood) the simple act of standing upright with your “shoulders back and chest out” will alter your state of being. (That’s why the military always tells their soldiers to stand with their “backs straight and chest out.” Can you imagine if everyone was slouched and depressed looking?)
    • Our bodies are designed to be upright and move, NOT for prolonged sitting. With our increased sedentary lifestyles, our bodies have become more anterior which decreases our health on a daily basis. This includes slouching at a computer or laptop, curling your neck/spine over your cell phone and spending too much time in a recliner or soft couch
  • Exercise as mentioned earlier is a form of eustress and helps reduce cortisol levels and increase endorphins. The benefits are greatest when people exercises regularly.
  • Yoga or hot yoga – Not only is yoga exercise it can also be very meditative and also stretches body tissues which helps improve posture and circulation
  • Hydro therapy
    • Sauna
    • Hot tub
    • Cold effusion
  • Laugh – Laughter reduces the level of “stress hormones” (cortisol, epinephrine, adrenaline) and triggers the release of endorphins (dopamine, ocytocin and serotonin) which promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
  • Positive physical contact (Cuddling, hugging, kissing and sex) can help release oxytocin and lower cortisol which can help lower blood pressure and heart rate