The big picture


Stress made us who we are. As a species, we've evolved as a result of stress. Our body is designed to handle stress - our ‘flight or fight’ survival reaction, quite useful when the caveman encountered a wild animal. But in the modern world, the “always on” trend puts us in a permanent state of alert. Continuous stress became the norm and it turned against us.

Types of Stress


Stress can be positive and stimulating, keeping us alert and ready to avoid danger.

Acute Stress


A dog barks loudly at you, or you are about to give a talk in public. Within milliseconds, a hormonal cascade pushes your body’s machinery into a “crisis” state. To "save" your life, your body starts to produce more energy: more glucose is released from your liver, more blood and oxygen are pumped to the heart and muscles. Functions that are not immediately needed, like digestion, sex, the immune system, are slowed down. You feel your heart beating in your throat, you become extremely aware of everything around you, and feel a real boost.


This ‘on the spot’ type of stress can be good for you because the extra stress hormones help your mind and body to deal with the situation.


Prolonged stress is harmful and causes wear and tear on your mind and body.

Chronic stress


But there are no nasty dogs who wants to bite you every day. And that’s good, because our ‘alert mode’ is not designed to be constantly “on”.


If you are exposed too often to stressful situations, without the necessary recovery or relaxation, your body will build up stress-related tension. This chronic stress will become negative and then manifest in a variety of ways.

Biology (just a little bit)


In response to stress, the levels of various hormones and molecules change, especially those secreted by the adrenals, the ‘stress glands’.

The adrenals secrete cortisol and DHEA, steroid hormones and other molecules (adrenaline, noradrenaline) involved in stress response. They influence glucose, insulin and inflammation, and play a major role in bone and muscle building, mood and mental focus, stamina, the sex drive and sleep cycles.

When stress is prolonged, adrenals turn into a roller coaster, become overworked, get tired, lack juice and will lead you to exhaustion and burnout, along with other troubles: blood sugar and insulin imbalances, food cravings, belly fat, sleep problems, low metabolism, weakened immunity.

Cortisol 'the stress hormone'

This generally affects the body‘s ability to adapt to stimuli. An important function of cortisol is activating the metabolism to mobilise energy reserves. Cortisol influences emotional stress, blood pressure, metabolism, immune response and memory formation, among other important functions.

Excess of cortisol

Sleeping difficulties

Tension, nervousness

High blood pressure

Increased cholesterol

Increased belly fat

Susceptibility to infections

Lack of cortisol

Lack of energy

Lack of focus

Tired in the morning

Fatigue

Forgetfulness

Sugar cravings

Low resistance to stress

DHEA 'the youth hormone'

DHEA is made of cholesterol, mainly in the adrenal gland, the same gland that secretes cortisol. DHEA balances the stress reaction caused by cortisol and thus helping to better deal with stress.

The production of DHEA decreases continually with age, from age 25 on. DHEA is also a building block of the sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen, improving well-being and vitality.

Lack of DHEA

Low resistance to stress

Increase cortisol effect

Low sex hormones

Low libido

Depression

Forgetfulness

Learning difficulties

Adrenaline
'performance and stress hormone'

When a stressful situation occurs, adrenaline ensures that the muscles and the brain quickly have more energy available. It increases respiratory volume, blood pressure and the heart rate; it also increases attentiveness and general mental activity, motivation and willingness to perform.

But on the other hand, it inhibits digestion and sexual activity.

Lack of adrenaline

Fatigue, exhaustion

Depression

Apathia

Lack of focus

Low blood pressure

Difficulties to lose weight

Excess of adrenaline

Insomnia

Nervousness

Anxiety

Noradrenaline
'mental alertness'

Noradrenaline has the effect of increasing blood pressure, alertness, concentration, willingness to perform, motivation and motor functions. It is also involved in the controlling a multitude of hormones.

Lack of noradrenaline

Lack of energy

Lack of focus

Depression

Impaired sensitivity to pain

Excess of noradrenaline

Anxiety

High blood pressure

Hyperactivity

Serotonin
'the happiness hormone'

Serotonin is an important messenger substance in the brain, mainly found in the gut nervous system and blood platelets. Serotonin is essentially responsible for our emotions. Acting together with adrenaline and dopamine, it elevates our mood and controls motivation. It also has a relaxing, sleep-enhancing and anti-depressive effect. In addition, it participates in regulating the feeling of being full and sensitivity to pain. Essential intestinal functions are also affected by serotonin.

Lack of serotonin

Depression

Anxiety

Fatigue

Bulimia

Weight gain

Increased sensitivity to pain

Migraine

Lack of focus

Poor sleep

Nervousness

Homovanillic Acid (HVA)
'the reward molecule'

Homovanillic acid, part of the dopaminergic system mainly acts in a stimulating manner. It is essential for coordination, movement, memory and learning, as well as concentration and mental performance. In addition, together with serotonin, it has a mood-lifting effect and regulates the so-called reward system and therefore our drives and motivation.

Lack of Homovanillic Acid

Lack of motivation

Depression

Low libido

Fatigue

Addictions

Low muscle tonus

Eating disorders

Poor memory

Excess of Homovanillic Acid

Restlessness

Difficulties to concentrate

Poor sleep

Fatigue

Glutamate (natural stimulant and brain detoxifier)

Glutamate has various important functions in the brain. As a messenger substance it is important for learning and memory, for intentional, controlled movements, and for the brain's ability to perceive the environment and adapt to it. In addition, glutamate participates in the metabolic processes that detoxify the brain of damaging ammonia.

Lack of glutamate

Fatigue

Perception disturbances

Fatigue

Bulimia

Weight gain

Increased sensitivity to pain

Migraine

Lack of focus

Poor sleep

Nervousness

Excess of glutamate

Anxiety

Hyperactivity

Cramps

Depression

Nervousness

Epilepsy

GABA
(the body‘s natural sedative)

GABA has a calming effect, since it influences the amount of the stress hormones. It prevents sensory overload, has an effect that is relaxing, sleep-enhancing, pain-reducing, and anti spasmodic and stabilises blood pressure. In addition, GABA is very important for memory and learning.

Lack of gaba

Anxiety

High blood pressure

Depression

Sugar cravings

Chronic Pain

Night sweat

Premenstrual syndrome

Sleeping difficulties

Forgetfulness

An elevated level of GABA occurs mostly as a counteracting agent when other messenger substances are over-activated, as occurs during chronic stress. This is how the body attempts to balance the effects of the elevated stress hormones, or at least to dampen them.

Other hormones modified by stress

Thyroid Hormones

Are slowed down in stressful conditions. Decreased thyroid function is a factor in fatigue, weight gain and feeling low.

Sex Hormones

Prolonged stress leads to a lower libido and sex drive. The female reproductive cycle can also be disturbed.

Insulin

May decrease during stress, thus increasing the level of sugar in the blood. Chronic stress can then lead to insulin resistance.

Growth hormone

Increases during acute physical stress, which can enhance metabolic activity. But chronic stress can lead to less growth hormone being secreted.



Why Measure Stress


Everyone knows what stress is, but it's a big challenge to know where you are on the stress roller -coaster.

To understand the real impact of these stress molecules on your body, you need to rely on more than what you “feel”. Your perception of stress does not always reflect your biology.

Stress molecules can be objectively measured and this gives you clues on how to deal with stress from within.