It is a beautiful day for her family picnic. The sun is shining and there is a warm breeze gently blowing. Wafting towards her is the scent of lilac emanating from the bushes that line the boundary of her backyard. She is surrounded by her family and close friends. Everyone is talking and laughing, having a good time. The younger children are playing games while the older children hang out, joking around.
Out of the corner of her eye she catches the sight of her four-year-old grandson chasing a ball. She sees the ball rolling into the street in front of an oncoming car. She quickly dashes towards the boy, scooping him up into her arms just as the ball pops as it passes under the car.
Her heart is pounding. Her body is sweaty. Her breathing is fast and shallow as she sits down in unspeakable relief. It only took just a few short seconds for her body to be drained of all of its energy. She now begins to recover. It will take about 20 to 30 minutes for her to calm down. “All’s well that ends well,” she tells the people around her, yet inside she is still a little shaken up.
The Stress Response
In an emergency, your body activates a stress response in your central nervous system, releasing a quick dose of stress hormones. After the danger has passed, your body is designed to go back into a relaxed, healing state. Ideally, this should occur within 30 minutes. However, if you live in a constant state of stress day after day, month after month, year after year, you will find yourself living in overwhelm, causing your body to become depleted of more and more energy. This is the exact opposite state you need to be in for your body and mind to heal from physical and emotional traumas and insults.
Acute stress improves your immune system
The story above is an example of acute stress. When the woman saw her grandson was in danger, her body automatically triggered a stress state, causing adrenaline and cortisol to be released from her adrenal glands to gave her the burst of energy she needed to run out and snatch him away from danger. After the danger passed, her body naturally went back into a relaxed, healing state.
Acute stress can be healthy as it wakes up your immune system. When the body undergoes short bursts of stress, stress hormones are released in two waves.
The first wave releases adrenaline, a short-action hormone that fights off short-term dangers and threats such as infections. Adrenaline elevates your heart rate, increases your blood pressure, and gives you a burst of energy. In danger, this is absolutely necessary for you to either fight the danger or run from it.
The second wave releases cortisol. Cortisol wakes up the immune system. It increases glucose (blood sugar) for the brain to use and suppresses the digestive and reproductive systems, motivating you to move to fight or flee danger.
Both adrenaline and cortisol are anti-inflammatory. Because of this, short bursts of stress can actually be good for your immune system, for it stimulates it, making it stronger. Biohackers use this fact to their advantage through the use of cryotherapy, intermittent fasting, regular saunas, and exercise.
Chronic stress harms your immune system
There are two kinds of survival states: stress and overwhelm.
A stress state is a state of fight or flight. This is the acute stress state.
Overwhelm, however, is different. It is the freeze state caused by chronic stress.
The following is a description of a woman who has been living her life in a freeze state resulting from being overwhelmed for long periods of time.
Janet is a fully disabled veteran who struggles with PTSD, Gerd, IBS, and has experienced severe physical, emotional, and medical trauma throughout her lifetime.
Janet lives in self-imposed isolation, is unable to maintain close relationships, and has very little joy or happiness because she lives in fear. She has never learned how to live in the present. She struggles with food, weight, and brain fog.
She wants to know why she acts the way she acts. She is frustrated because she knows other people who live full and happy lives and she wants that, too, but has not been able to figure out how to make that happen for herself.
The Autoimmune Process
The immune system and the nervous system are interconnected.
When a person goes into a stress response (fight/flight), the body can’t sustain that state for very long because it uses up a lot of energy, so the body plummets into an overwhelmed/freeze state, which shuts off the immune system (immunosuppression) making the body more susceptible to infections. The body gets stressed again and jumps back up into a stress state, releasing adrenaline and cortisol. Soon, by necessity, the body goes back down into overwhelm, where cortisol levels are lowered. Along comes more stress for a period of time and then, again, back to overwhelm. This can happen sometimes multiple times per day. Over time, a pattern is created. The body vacillates back and forth, which is confusing to the body. The end result is autoimmunity, which is where the body starts attacking its own tissue.
Chronic stress → chronically elevated cortisol levels → more susceptibility to infections → infections get recorded and build up in immune system → immune system gets suppressed → body goes into overwhelm → body transitions into an autoimmune response → body starts attacking itself.
There are over 100 recognized autoimmune diseases. To avoid autoimmune conditions such as depression, fibromyalgia, lupus, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, diabetes, and many others, it is imperative that we all live in a relaxed, healing state – the state where healing, health, and happiness reside.
Are you living in overwhelm? If yes, I can help.
When working with me, I will give you the guidance, compassion, and support you need. I have been through a great deal of trauma in my own life, so I know how isolating, confusing, and sad it can be. If you would like to talk about your own experiences with someone who understands, I am only a click away.
Book a call HERE to learn more about how we can work together. I would love to meet you and hear your story.
I am a certified Mind Body Eating Coach and am currently studying to become a Biology of Trauma Practitioner. My goal when exhausted women ask, “Why am I so tired all the time?” is to help them explore their story to see what has happened in the past that is draining their energy today. In addition to coaching, blogging, reading, and studying, I am a professional trumpet player. I also enjoy exercising, cooking, gardening, calligraphy, and helping others achieve their goals.
Information in this post is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition.