Saying goodbye to the warmth of the Summer sunshine is never easy, and embracing Winter can often be met with a runny nose, and an inability to get out of bed in the morning.
When the cooler weather hits, its important to understand not only what is happening around us and to our environment, but also to how our bodies react to these changes… and ultimately, what we can do about it to ensure we minimise the chances of getting sick.
The physiological impact of stress on the body is nothing short of amazing. Stress is a necessary and needed reaction in the human body – it’s our ‘flight or fight’ response and it’s what gets us out of dangerous situations quickly, or what gives us that extra boost of energy when we are going through a tough stint at work or within our emotional lives.
When we are stressed, several things happen within the body to help us ‘cope’.
Firstly, our adrenal medulla secretes the hormone adrenaline which stimulates our sympathetic nervous system and suppresses our parasympathetic one. This hormone is what many of us might recognise in the physical form when we experience an increase in heart rate, shorter breaths, dilated pupils and perhaps even sweating. Other adaptations triggered by adrenaline are a suppression in our digestive and fertility functions allowing the blood circulation to move into our arms, legs, and brain giving us the energy boost we need in that moment. Once the stressor has passed, our body then reverts back into the parasympathetic state of ‘rest and digest’.
The second major hormone triggered when we are stressed is cortisol – released from our adrenal glands, this hormone enables the body to secrete and maintain steady supplies of stored glucose from the liver, which gets pumped into our blood stream to give us the increased energy we need during that moment. Whilst our cortisol levels are increased, our immune system is suppressed to allow for this process to happen effectively.
Both of these major stress responses are normal, and safe for the short term. Where stress starts to severely affect the body is when we are ‘on edge’ most of the time and therefore our body remains in the sympathetic state for much longer than desired.