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The Unhealthy Progression of Stress

We ALL experience stress in one form or another, and often many forms of stressors. Sometimes we have good days and bad days with more stressful episodes. Sometimes we have consistent exposure to stress, whether we realize it or not. We can even have episodes of increasing variety and/or intensity. We can adapt at a certain point, but then it becomes more of an issue if not resolved. Then we overwhelming stress exposure!

A healthy response to stress is when the Hypothalamus stimulates the Pituitary, which stimulates the Adrenals, which stimulates cortisol production (fight or flight) and other stress hormones. An 'alarm' stress creates an inflammatory cascade and stimulates the Sympathetic Nervous System to respond and the Parasympathetic system to diminish. Norepinephrine and epinephrine are the neurotransmitters which are also stimulated.

Once the stress has subsided, our Sympathetic NS should go down and our Parasympatheic NS should respond again with abilities to take care of our regular functions for living, like rest, renew, repair, digest, sleep, etc.

Too often we have repeated or consistent stressors and the Sympathetic NS does not get a chance to calm down, nor the ParaSympathetic NS the ability to go back into dominance. We can end up with chronically elevated levels of cortisol, persistent inflammation, it stimulates the liver and fat production, our body turns any glycogen it can find into glucose and our insulin production increases to deal with the excess blood sugar. Insulin resistance can occur and pre-diabetes can result.

In the early stages we may feel high stress, appear high strung, anxious, or agitated, may have occasional sleeplessness, but little fatigue. We are tired but wired! Our pulse is often higher as well.

Mid-Stage symptoms we feel moderate stress and more tired. Serotonin starts to decline. Blood glucose may become a problem.

Late Stage we feel fatigued, exhausted and are usually very tired int he morning, taking longer to get ourselves going. We may experience sleeplessness or difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Our pulse becomes slower. Now cortisol, DHEA, Serotonin and blood pressure can all decrease as inflammation is persistent.

The ability to respond to stress in a healthy manner is essential so it does not interfere with our enjoyment of life and even the ability to perform ordinary daily activities. Incorporating lifestyle, nutritional, and behavioral recommendation can help support a healthy response and function.

Healthy Routines include:

  • Obtain regular exerice

  • Spend time outdoors regularly

  • Establish regular bedtimes and obtain sufficient sleep

  • Consider smoking cessation programs to reduce chronic stressors

  • Avoid or limit alcohol and sugar consumption

  • Identify and remove food intolerances

  • Establish regular times for meditation, deep breathing practices

  • Nutritional supplements and cleansing programs to support the body

There are particular needs and supplements that are used for early stage, mid-stage, and late stage adrenal stress, fatigue and exhaustion. There is not a 'one-size-fits-all' type adrenal supplement. Managing you cortisol levels, DHEA, blood sugar, hormone and neurotransmitter levels, supporting your Hypothalamus, Pituitary and Adrenal Axis, and supporting healthy digestion and elimination are essential factors.

Please be aware that we ALL tend to have stress and for most people it can be chronic and problematic. Don't wait until it takes too much of a toll on your body! Start today to take corrective measures to identify and eliminate chronic stressors, support your body and improve your lifestyle. Trust me, as one who has been through all stages, you do not want it to get too bad as recovery can take much longer. Taking care of your own needs and how you respond to life is important. Pay attention and take whatever actions you need to support yourself! You'll be glad you did.

Jane Smolnik is a Naturopathic Doctor and Iridologist with a private practice in Asheville, NC. She also works with people by phone from all over. For more information, please visit her website at:, or call 828-777-5263.

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