The Three Phases of Stress

Thanks to the pioneering work of two physicists Walter Cannon and Hans Selye we now understand better the physiologic effects of stress. Scientist Hans Selye is credited with describing the “Adaptation Response and the three phases of stress†.

Phase 1 is called the Alarm Reaction. It is in this phase that we first perceive a threat to our wellbeing and we must act quickly. The hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol originating from the brain and adrenal glands provide us with instant energy and increase our reaction time preparing us for fight or flight.

Phase 2 called the Resistance Phase should ideally be a resolution of the stressful situation with shifting back into hormone balance, recovery, and repair. Unfortunately for many of us, the causes of our stress persist and our adrenals keep pumping out elevated levels of stress hormones which can harm us. Elevated adrenaline causes a surge in blood pressure that can damage the blood vessels and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Chronically elevated cortisol increases blood sugar, the risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes, acid reflux, gastric ulcers, suppresses the immune system and causes damage to muscle cells.

Phase 3 is the Exhaustion Phase. This phase can be referred to in more familiar terms as overload, burnout, chronic fatigue and adrenal malfunction. In this phase, our backup supply of energy has been depleted and the adaptation syndrome of chronically elevated cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline cause damage to nerves cells, particularly in the brain. Thinking and memory become impaired pushing us toward anxiety, insomnia, and depression. This phase can cause dysfunction in the autonomic nervous system promoting high blood pressure, heart disease and increasing risk for autoimmune diseases.

Eat, Breathe, Exercise

EAT small meals frequently (every 2-3 hrs) when you’re stressed which include adequate lean protein, lots of vegetables, small amounts of grain and little or no simple sugar. Avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol. This will stabilize your blood sugar and help prevent insulin resistance.

BREATHE 10 long, slow, deep breaths in a row or practice meditation which requires focusing on breathing. This will lower cortisol, enhance sleep, support the immune system and reduce blood pressure.

EXERCISE vigorously at least 20 – 30 minutes a day; walking, hiking, biking, swimming, etc. This will lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, support the immune system and elevate the mood.

Herbal Allies

Valerian Root was used as a primary medicine to treat symptoms of stress and sleep disturbance for the civilian victims and the veterans of World Wars I and II.
Rhodiola Rosea Extract is made from the root of the Rhodiola plant, which grows in the cold climates and high altitude of Northern Europe and Asia. It is highly regarded for its properties as an Adaptogen, supporting mental focus, recovery from fatigue and nervous tension.
Ashwagandha extract is also made from the root of Ashwagandha somnifera, which contains substances called withanolides. Ashwagandha comes to us from India and supports recovery from fatigue, exhaustion, stress and nervous tension because it supports both the body and the mind.
L-Theanine is an amino acid found abundantly in green tea, which has been found to support mental and physical stress. Theanine has also been found to help protect the brain.

Don’t forget to exercise, as this is one of the best ways to reduce stress.