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Balancing Your Stress Response

Your stress response is designed to instantly accommodate changes in your environment and inside your body. It has to be sensitive to these changes and able to respond quickly but keep these responses in check so homeostasis is preserved. To do this, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis works as a negative feedback loop. For example, in response to a stressor, the hypothalamus activates the fight or flight stress by causing the adrenals to produce adrenalin and cortisol. The rising levels of adrenalin and cortisol in turn signal the hypothalamus to stop activating the stress response.

influencers-on-hypothalamus

However, chronic stress keeps stimulating production of cortisol and adrenalin – leaving your stress response system constantly on. This eventually desensitizes the HPA axis to the negative feedback telling it to turn off, and/or diminishes the ability of the HPA axis glands, especially the adrenal glands, to make adequate amounts of hormones. The resulting dysfunction leads to problems related to stress response imbalance.

cortisol-tightrope

What can you do to promote HPA axis balance?

Sleep and Stress

Stress interrupts healthy sleep and lack of sleep causes stress. Physiological factors like elevated or low stress hormones, psychological factors like anxious thoughts, and behavioral factors like working late on the computer can be the culprits making it hard to get to sleep, waking you up in the night and/or disrupting deep sleep, when your body repairs and recharges. It’s a vicious cycle – but because it’s a closely interrelated cycle, making any one of these factors more sleep friendly, helps shift all of them in the right direction. Everyone is different so make the changes you find easiest first.

What can you do to become more sleep friendly?

Physiological shifts

Psychological shifts

Behavioral shifts