But if the stress situation lasts too long, and is not followed by a phase of relaxation, it leads to a series of harmful relapses for the organism.
This is referred to as bad stress, or distress
Cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands at the instigation of the brain, is the symbol of stress: at times of increased tension, it causes blood sugar and fats in the blood to rise, providing the body with the energy it needs.
Together with cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenalin (catecholamines) are then released; the combination of these three increases blood pressure to improve physical performance and alertness.
Once the stress situation has passed, the body returns to equilibrium (muscle tone, breathing, heart rate and blood pressure decrease) and the body relaxes.
This phase is essential: without it, the conditions for exhaustion occur.
THE STRESS CYCLE
Stress is a cyclical condition, the course of which can be divided into three phases:
- alertness: the organism prepares the necessary resources to cope with the stressful situation;
- resistance: period in which stress is prolonged. The organism efficiently rations the available resources, releasing the accumulated energy in the form of fat thanks to the action of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland at the instigation of the brain, which remains at constantly high levels during this phase. This then causes weight loss. As resources are depleted, however, a condition of chronic stress sets in;
- exhaustion: the adrenal glands can no longer secrete the required amount of cortisol, the level of which drops to the point of exhaustion. This is a natural occurrence when the stress situation becomes unbearable, followed by a state of physical and mental malaise.
TIRED IN THE MORNING AND ACTIVE IN THE EVENING?
The level of cortisol produced varies, describing a curve, throughout the day, and the energy we have is modified precisely by following this trend.
The highest peak occurs in the time before waking up to provide the body with the energy it needs to get through the day.
Stress affects this curve, ensuring that the cortisol level remains high even at the end of the day.
This allows you to work late into the night, but hinders sleep and in the long run changes the sleep-wake rhythm: you feel tired in the morning because cortisol levels are low, but they rise throughout the day until they reach excessive peaks in the evening.
In the case of chronic stress, those who have high cortisol levels in the evening run a greater risk of developing forms of arteriosclerosis linked to hypertension, which in turn increases cardiovascular risk.
Moreover, a chronic excess of cortisol debilitates the immune system and can promote diseases such as osteoporosis.
HOW TO COMBAT STRESS?
Negative stress today is part of our everyday life, and is often linked to situations (perhaps work-related) that cannot be changed.
We must therefore compensate with a healthy lifestyle and good habits such as eating healthily, not smoking, dedicating time to relaxing activities, and sleeping the right number of hours per night.