How stress affects the nervous system and brain

by VitaGene Support

Your brain is like a master switch for processing the world around you. When you’re stressed, brain circuits turn on. The eyes or ears send information to the amygdala, the part of the brain that is primarily responsible for emotional processing. Once the amygdala confronts a stressful situation, like working under dangerous conditions, it sends a message to the hypothalamus to release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to help stimulate the nervous system. That’s when your body gets the energy to fight or flight.

Acute vs chronic stress

Not all stress is bad. Acute stress, also known as short-term stress, is the type of stress you might feel before going on a first date or riding on a roller coaster. This “in the moment” stress can actually be good for you because it helps improve your focus and creates stronger networks in the brain. The body also recovers quickly from this type of stress.

On the other hand, chronic stress is long-term and influenced by repeated exposure to stressful situations. This might be caused by an unhealthy work environment or a family member’s medical diagnosis. Over time, chronic stress can take a toll on your health and the brain’s ability to function properly. Research has shown that chronic stress can impair memory and even reduce the size of the brain.

How does stress affect the nervous system?

The nervous system is like a control center for involuntary body functions like breathing and your heartbeat. It’s made up of two components: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.

Sympathetic nervous system stress

Imagine you’re taking a hike in the mountains and you encounter a lion. You’ll likely start breathing heavily and your heart will start racing faster. You might freeze or feel the urge to run away. This is the sympathetic nervous system in action. It triggers the fight-or-flight response, providing the body with energy to respond to perceived dangers.

Parasympathetic nervous system stress

Now imagine that the coast is now clear from a lion. The threat is no longer there, and the body will return to an unstressed state. The parasympathetic nervous system enables this process. Once activated, the body goes into “rest and digest” mode, which means you feel calm and safe. While stress can feel overwhelming, there are a number of strategies that can help to reduce stress levels and improve well-being. 

Five ways to manage stress:

  1. Be active.

Movement is medicine for the brain and body. Exercise is shown to reduce stress hormones and create endorphins, which promote a good mood and pleasurable state of mind. This is where the phrase “runner’s high” comes from.

Whether you take a 30-minute walk or take a high-intensity fitness class, movement will help you cope with stress.

  1. Prioritise sleep.

This is your sign to stop pushing your bedtime later. Getting quality, consistent sleep helps sharpen your memory and mood! When you don’t get enough sleep, the body releases more cortisol (the stress hormone). Focus on healthy sleep habits: setting a regular bedtime, switching electronics off an hour before bed, and avoiding caffeine in the evening.

  1. Take stress-supporting supplements.

Supplemental 5-HTTP: increases serotonin production within the central nervous system. Serotonin controls the function of several peripheral organs and contributes to positive mood and feelings of wellbeing. Studies have shown that 200mg of 5-HTP a day helps support a calm and relaxed mood and feelings of wellbeing.

Valerian Root: with its delicate pink flowers and feather-like leaves, valerian root works to support relaxation, help occasional sleeplessness and improve quality of rest. Although valerian root’s mechanism of action is not fully understood, it supports relaxation and sleep by interacting with neurotransmitters like GABA (signaling molecule) by inhibiting its breakdown in the brain. GABA slows down the action of certain brain signals thereby decreasing activity in the nervous system.

Vitamin B6: plays a role in the production of glucocorticoids (stress hormones). Glucocorticoids are secreted by the adrenal glands in response to stress and helps release energy from storage sites into the bloodstream. Glucocorticoids help mediate the stress response and also help to counteract the initial stress response restoring balance.

Solgar® 5-HTP L-5-Hydroxytryptophan Complex is formulated with 5-HTP, magnesium, valerian and vitamin B6, to help individuals maintain inner balance while coping with the demands of modern day life.

  1. Connect with friends.

Having close friendships and community will help you feel loved and cared for. Whether you’re going through a stressful situation or not, don’t hesitate to reach out to friends for support. In fact, close social relationships are shown to limit stress all the time, not just in stressful situations. Friends can also make you laugh, which is good for improving mood and reducing stress.

  1. Practice meditation.

Meditation has been a common practice over centuries for a reason. It’s one of the most popular ways to relieve stress because it affects the body the opposite way stress does. Rather than stimulating fight or flight, it triggers the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, helping you get into a calm state of mind.

Information supplied by Solgar.


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