What is the Stress Response and How Does it Affect us?

The stress response is our body’s reaction to
 stress – it is the
cascade of stress hormones that produce physiological changes in our body, including
a pounding heart, short, shallow breathing and sweating palms and forehead, when we are stressed. These signs of stress are commonly known as the ‘fight, flight or fawn response, designed to help us prepare for any perceived threat by acting aggressively, fleeing the scene or ‘pleasing’ the aggressor in order to avoid conflict. 


The physical changes include increased heart rate, blood pressure, and increased blood sugar levelsthese help prime our bodies to prepare to deal with the threat and they are instinctual. They were developed as a response to real threats in our past, such as being eaten or chased by a predator. Just think about it – increased blood sugar will give us more energy to run faster and for longer! 


So what’s the problem with this? 

The truth is that its very rare that we find ourselves in situations where our life is under threat. The problem arises because our brains and our bodies don’t seem know the difference between the threat of presenting to a crowd versus the threat of being eaten by a lion! There appears to be no middle ground.  


So, if our stress response is engaged regularly, which means an increase in the stress hormones epinephrine (adrenaline), cortisol, and norepinephrine, then our bodies will pay a price. For anyone who lives with arthritis, stress is likely to compound pain and symptoms (a vicious cycle because these things, in themselves, cause stress). Many with inflammatory types of arthritis would also cite stress as a trigger for a flare. This makes it particularly important to try to get on top of stress in order to self-manage our condition and to live the best life that we possibly can