Shocker! Males and females evolved to process stress differently. Even though our bodies react in a similar way (meaning, elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate, dilated pupils), female and male brains activate different pathways — even response to the same stressors. This is why we need to study and clinically understand female stress responses and triggers as distinct from male stress patterns.
The inherently complex combination of chromosomes, hormones, secondary sexual characteristics, and functional differences that differentiate the female stress response from the male response. While used in scientific and medical research, this term does not fully encompass the diverse biological, anatomical, and chromosomal variations that can occur.
Your body’s way of maintaining equilibrium when dealing with all the things that life throws at you. Yes, that even includes waking up in the morning. At any moment of the day, your body is evaluating, responding, and sending energetic resources to meet endlessly variable needs. Can we all pause for a second to appreciate the wonder of the human body. Yep, just wow.
The cumulative result of the wear and tear your body experiences as it continually adapts to the range of challenges we face as humans. The struggle can be very real and your response is influenced by everything from your experiences and genetics, to behavior. Over time, allostatic load accumulates, which is where problems start. Allostatic load comes into play when: 1. your stress response is balanced but being used too frequently, 2. you rarely (or never) turn off your stress response, 3. your stress response is appropriate but slow to calm down or 4. you have a deficient hormonal response that leads to a hyper-active immune system. Basically, it’s about an imbalance between stressed out periods and periods of calm, energy mobilization, and restoration.
The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is one of the body’s principal stress regulatory systems. Through a dynamic cooperation of 3 endocrine glands, its activation culminates in the release of the hormone cortisol and plays a role in mobilizing energy resources to meet the demands of acute stress. Its activity is influenced by genetic, epigenetic, and life-style variables.
The branch of the nervous system that controls involuntary responses, like heart rate, digestion, urinating, and sexual arousal. It is divided into two interacting and balancing systems; the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
Our body’s response to stimulation or change that is characterized by the activation of the autonomic nervous system and the HPA axis. It is an integrated directive of the brain that at its core deals with arousal, perception, and energy allocation. This response puts all your organs in high alert and sets off a number of physiological and hormonal changes, such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, activated immune system, decreased digestion, and the release of sugar and fats into your bloodstream for energy.
This is the type of stress that results from repeated exposure to stimuli that mobilize our stress response. Our body is wonderfully adapted at managing short-term physical emergencies, but our modern lifestyles turn on the same physiological responses when we juggle two jobs, worry about our relationships, or stay up late answering emails. This type of prolonged stress leads to wear and tear on your body and mind.
This is your primary stress hormone. It has a daily ebb and flow— high in the morning and low at night. During a stress response, it gets released into your bloodstream by specialized cells in the adrenal glands to maintain normal brain and body function. Normal is good! But cortisol gets a bad rap because when there’s too much or too little in the body, things go haywire and your sleep patterns, energy levels, quality of emotions, and function of your immune system can be affected.
(also known as the Fight or Flight system) This system gives us the vigilance to react quickly in threatening situations through a series of ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ hormonal and physiological responses. Prioritizing safety and survival over all functions, your body becomes more alert, your organ systems work faster, and your digestion slows.
(also known as the rest and digest system) Working in opposition to the sympathetic nervous system, this system maintains and restores your energy. This is how your body regulates every day processes and dampens the stress response - so your heart rate slows, GI tract relaxes, blood pressure drops, and body repairs itself.
The body’s natural 24-hour cycle that is synchronized by light exposure. This rhythm influences the regulation of your hormones, metabolism, temperature, restoration, digestion, and organ systems.
The longest nerve in the parasympathetic nervous system, originates in the brain, traverses down through the chest, abdomen, pelvis, and branches out to the majority of the body’s organs. It governs a large range of crucial functions, like sending motor and sensory impulses, initiating your body’s relaxation response, controlling heart rate, and translating messages via electrical impulses between the gut and your brain.
What scientist Dr. Stephen Porges calls the part of the vagus nerve that extends to the heart’s pacemaker; the sinoatrial node muscle. One of its functions is to vary the heart rate depending on what our environment requires. When we experience strong emotions, either from internal or external stimuli, the vagal brake is lifted and our heart rate increases. The strength of your vagal brake can influence your stress resilience, adaptability, mood, and metabolic output.
The vagus nerve has two main branches: a myelinated and unmyelinated branch. Myelination is the protective fatty sheath that wraps around a nerve to protect it and speed up its transmission of electrical signals. This branch joins our hearts and lungs and is responsible for the expressions on our face, our voice pitches, and breathing. Mammals likely evolved a myelinated vagus in order to socialize, communicate emotional expressions, and self-regulate.
While getting some shut-eye, our body moves through two types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM (which has three different stages). You move through all 4 stages several times a night, with progressively longer and deeper REM periods happening close to the morning. The body is restored during stage 3 of non-REM sleep, when your muscles repair and grow, and the brain is revived during REM sleep when memories are consolidated and retained.
Coined by neuropsychologist Dr. Shelley Taylor, this is a behavioral mechanism theorizing how women instinctively show empathy, crave nurturing activities, and seek social support when under stress. On a psychological level, women have a different neurochemistry and neurocircuitry from men. Specifically, we release higher amounts of the hormone oxytocin during stress which lessens the ‘fight-or-flight’ response and prompts us to gather with loved ones instead.
A dynamic set of cells moving around the body in search of foreign invaders. Like the brain, it processes local information in an effective manner to generate a reaction. The main soldiers are white blood cells who detect, respond to, and keep a record of all unfamiliar microbes. The innate immune system is comprised of your surface barriers and cells that can engulf, ingest, and digest foreign particles. The other half of your immune system, adaptive immunity, uses an immunological memory to learn about certain threats and enhance the immune response accordingly. Chronic stress triggers the same immune response as a bacterial invader.
Our body is in a dynamic symbiotic relationship with trillions of microbial cells; current estimates suggest that 9 out of 10 cells are not yours. But don’t go reaching for the soap because the vast majority of these bacteria are not pathogenic and cannot make us sick. They instead produce vitamins and minerals we lack from our diet. Every person has a unique gut flora of over 1,000 microbial species. Their composition is influenced by factors like genetics, stress, sleep, and diet. They protect us by eliminating hazardous chemicals and killing unhealthy microbes. They can influence the repair of our organs and train the immune system to attack foreign invaders. There is even evidence that they, together with the gut, can influence our emotions and food preferences.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps glucose, which comes from the food we eat, be used for energy. In this condition, insulin becomes less effective in helping glucose enter muscle and fat cells, and as a result, blood sugar levels rise. This can cause adverse health effects like Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and hypertension.