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Feeling Sick and Tired? : The Physiology And Effects Of Stress

The human body is constantly working to maintain internal balance (homeostasis). Therefore, when it senses the presence of a potential stressor, good or bad, it mobilizes the rest of the organs to restore balance. Selye (1950) refers to this phenomenon as the “General Adaption Syndrome” also known as “GAS”. The three stages of GAS are:

1. Alarm: Upon exposure to stress, hormones (epinephrine and norepinephrine) are released from the brain. These hormones prepare the body for a “flight and fight” response which may cause the body to react as follows:

-Increased heart rate and blood pressure: This occurs because of the elevated levels of the hormone, ‘epinephrine’ causing some individuals to experience mild chest pain, dizziness and heart palpitations.

-Increased muscle tension including back, jaw, neck pain.

-Increased blood glucose

-Digestive problems such as diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome

-Heightened sense of alertness and/or irritability leading to anger and/or frustration

2. Resistance: As the stress continues to rise so do the effects of the “flight and fight” response, releasing a hormone called “cortisol”, also referred to as the stress hormone which, plays a critical role in bodily functions including, “regulating glucose metabolism in order to ensure glucose levels in the blood remain high to ready muscles and keep brain functioning properly.” (Porth, 2014)

3. Exhaustion: At this point, if the stressor is ongoing, the body resources are depleted, and potential health issues may arise.

Indeed, prolonged stress has been linked to increasing chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, the body resistance to insulin and increased abdominal visceral fat, which, contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease, chronic inflammation, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, gastrointestinal diseases, type 2 diabetes and weight gain just to name a few. Therefore, it is critical for, overall wellness, to develop the ability to adopt a mindful approach to life’s stressors which, involves strengthening one’s resilience and mindset. As Achanya Shantideva writes, “…But Should I refrain this mind of mine. What would be the need to restrain all else?”


“Where would I possibly find enough leather

With which to cover the surface of the earth?

But with leather just the size of the soles,

Suffice covering the entire earth with it.

Likewise it is not possible to for me.

To refrain the external course of things.

But Should I refrain this mind of mine.

What would be the need to restrain all else?”

-Achanya Shantideva


Even though it is impossible to eliminate all stressors from life, adopting a mindful response to stress can help alleviate its long-term consequences. Here are a few helpful tips to developing a resilient mindset,

1. Breathe: A daily practice of mindful breathing, whether five, ten or fifteen minutes a day is helpful in processing emotions and calming the mind which, in turn, helps better assess the situation and devise a sensible solution.

2. Take a walk when possible: Walking is a great way to clear your mind and get new perspectives.

3. Prioritize sleep: At least 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night for an adult can work wonders. Read more about the benefits of good sleep,

4. Practice gratitude: Starting or ending the day by writing down three things one is grateful for can have a grounding effect on an individual.

5. Let it go: Acknowledge that, sometimes you just can’t change the situation and no amount of worry and stress will help.

6. Pray on it: Whether you adhere to a specific religious practice or not, it important to acknowledge that there is a Higher Intelligence behind all that there is. This Intelligence is harmonious in and out and flows through all with no exception.

7. Laugh: Listen to or watch something that makes you laugh; laughter is a great healer.

8. Fake it until you make it: if you can’t have what you want for now, that new job, the new home or situation you wish to be in, then envision yourself in it, dream it, plan for when you’ll have it. A great author, Wayne Dyer, once said, “You’ll see it when you believe it.”

9. Acknowledge your efforts: Be kind to yourself. Pay attention to how you talk to yourself. Make sure that you treat “you” as you would your best friend, with love and compassion.

10. Trust in the process: The beautiful thing is, The Higher Intelligence that controls it all is an infinite source of wisdom and abundance.


ACE (2019). The professional’s guide to health and wellness coaching: Empower Transformation Through Lifestyle Behavior Change. San Diego, CA. American Council on Exercise

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