top of page

Stress, General Adaptation Syndrome

stress caricatura_edited.jpg

Like all other species, we use Stress as a defense system that protects us from unknown stimuli.

Unknown situations activate our average brain with all its survival instincts, and we respond just like all other life forms.

We have the same mechanisms:

We fear the unknown and we engage chemically to deal with what our brain cannot predict and what we are unfamiliar with triggers our survival responses.

Humans share this response with many life forms, but because of our enlarged brain and our evolved social structures, we experience very different types of environmental stimuli and stressful behavioral responses.

As humans we are subject to three categories of Stress:

physical, chemical and emotional/psychological.

> Physical Stress includes events such as an accident, a fall, an injury due to excess effort and exposure to environmental conditions such as heat or cold,

food, water, lack of sleep . . .

> Chemical Stress is represented by allergens, toxins, pollutants, pesticides, heavy metals. . .

> Emotional/psychological Stress includes concerns about family, sense of guilt judgment, money, career, love, loss, mourning. . 

The non-physical threats we face are more complex and cannot be easily addressed with the "fight or flight" response as the risks animals run.


The physical, chemical and emotional/psychological Stresses that we humans face also stand out for another reason.

Animals almost always face a form of acute stress with a sudden attack and a quick solution.

In these situations of acute stress, the animal’s body becomes alert and at the end of the fight returns to homeostatic balance, usually within a few hours.

We humans tend to live in these situations of Chronic Stress.

We worry, we anticipate, we reason, we repress,

we rationalize and compromise in different situations

With trillions of neuronal connections we are so adept at remembering that we can activate a stress response without the cause being directly present.

The simple fact of thinking about the stress agent creates the stress response itself.

Our body is not designed to manage long-term stress and therefore can face more or serious diseases

>> The two responses to Stress <<

We respond to stress through two pathways: neurological and chemical

> The neurological response, most immediate: in it the Autonomic Nervous System is activated according to something real or imagined present in our environment and transmits information directly through the spine and the spinal nerves the peripheral nerves that are more immediately connected to the adrenal glands which produce Adrenaline (epinephrine) that immediately enters the bloodstream.

All this happens in seconds.

> The chemical response, slower: when we have a reaction to a stress agent our brain activates different neuronal networks through different systems.

The chemicals of the slow path are produced through the axis Hypothalamus/Hypophysis/peripheral glands

 and their activity can take minutes, but also hours to manifest.

Those neuronal networks send a signal to the Hypothalamus (seat of memory) the raw chemicals are transformed into peptides, chemical messengers that signal the body to activate in some way. 

In this response the peptide produced is called Corticotropic Hormone Release Factor.

When this hormone is released it delivers a message to the hypophysis that produces another chemical peptide called Adrenocorticotropic hormone.

The chemical message sent by the pituitary gland reaches the adrenals and stimulates their cells to produce various chemicals (glucocorticoids), in particular Cortisol, also known as Stress hormone, which further modify the internal order of the body.

All changes in the body’s chemical balance during stress are therefore due to the release of Adrenaline and Cortisol by the adrenals.

Elevated and prolonged levels of Cortisol in the bloodstream such as those associated with Chronic Stress have been shown to have negative effects throughout the body :


Alteration of memory and attention

(damage to the neurons of the Hippocampus even at a young age)

Altered function of the thyroid

Imbalances in blood sugar levels (Hyperglycemia, Diabetes)

Decreased bone density (Osteoporosis)

Decrease in muscle tissue

Increased cholesterol levels (Hypercholesterolemia)

High blood pressure

Sleep disturbances

Changes in mood

Lowering of the immune system

Altered inflammatory response

Overweight and Obesity

>> Studies show that after a stress in a young subject high levels of Cortisol are maintained for 60/120 minutes, while in an old age 3 times as much 180/360.

This is why basal levels of Cortisol are often higher in the elderly and is the reason for the lower efficiency that an elderly person shows in managing a stressful situation.

>> N.B. <<

Therapies with long-lasting cortisone drugs can cause the same effects as stress in the body since Cortisone is a synthetic variant of Cortisol.

It is important to keep in mind, especially in my research as a Naturopath,

that the perception of stressful events and situations is individual, in the sense that it depends on our genetic history, on our personal scale of values, the ability to be in touch with our emotions, the experiences made and the behaviors implemented in the course of our lives.

These considerations are the basis for creating a personalized strategic path, restoring balance throughout the system and achieving

the ideal Global Well-being.

bottom of page