Where Does It Come From?

Stress can come from inside. It can be caused by your perception of events, rather than by the events themselves. A job transfer might be a horrible stress to one person, a magnificent opportunity to another. A lot depends on attitude.

But even when the stress is undeniably external — say, all your money was just embezzled — stress affects a host of changes inside your body. More specifically, stress in all its many forms interferes with the body's production of three very important hormones that help you feel balanced and “normal”:

  1. Serotonin is the hormone that helps you get a good night's sleep. Produced in the pineal gland deep inside your brain, serotonin controls your body clock by converting into melatonin and then converting back into serotonin over the course of a 24-hour day. This process regulates your energy, body temperature, and sleep cycle.

    The serotonin cycle synchronizes with the cycle of the sun, regulating itself according to exposure to daylight and darkness, which is why some people who are rarely exposed to the sun, such as those in northern climates, experience seasonal depression during the long, dark winter months — their serotonin production gets out of whack.

    Stress can throw it out of whack, too, and one result is the inability to sleep well. People under stress often experience a disturbed sleep cycle, manifesting itself as insomnia or an excessive need to sleep because the sleep isn't productive.

  2. Noradrenaline is a hormone produced by your adrenal glands, related to the adrenaline that your body releases in times of stress to give you that extra chance at survival. Noradrenaline is related to your daily cycle of energy. Too much stress can disrupt your body's production of noradrenaline, leaving you with a profound lack of energy and motivation to do anything.

    Stress can disrupt your body's production of serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine. When the disruption of these chemicals results in depression, a physician may prescribe an antidepressant medication. Many antidepressant medications are designed specifically to regulate the production of serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine to re-establish the body's equilibrium. If stress management techniques don't work for you, you may require medication. See your doctor.

    It's that feeling you get when you just want to sit and stare at the television, even though you have a long list of things you absolutely have to do. If your noradrenaline production is disrupted, you'll probably just keep sitting there, watching television. You simply won't have the energy to get anything done.

  3. Dopamine is a hormone linked to the release of endorphin in your brain. Endorphin is that stuff that helps kill pain. Chemically, it is related to opiate substances like morphine and heroin, and, if you are injured, your body releases endorphin to help you function.

    When stress compromises your body's ability to produce dopamine, it also compromises your body's ability to produce endorphins, so you become more sensitive to pain. Dopamine is responsible for that wonderful feeling you get from doing things you enjoy. It makes you feel happy about life itself. Too much stress, too little dopamine, and nothing seems fun or pleasurable anymore. You feel flat. You feel depressed.

So, as you can see, stress comes from the inside as well as the outside. Your perception of events and the influences (such as health habits) on your body and mind actually cause chemical changes within your body. Anybody who ever doubted the intricate connection of the mind and body need only look at what happens when people feel stress and worry. It's all connected. (And therein lies a clue to what you can do about stress!)

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