Clements "never overlay thy selfe with a heavy weapon, for nimblenesse of bodie, and nimblenesse of weapon are two chief helpes for thy advantage" - Joseph Swetnam, The Schoole of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defence Popular media, fantasy games, and uninformed historians frequently give the impression that these immense weapons were awkward, unwieldy and ponderously heavy.
Support Aeon Donate now Stress pervades our lives. We become anxious when we hear of violence, chaos or discord. And, in our relatively secure world, the pace of life and its demands often lead us to feel that there is too much to do in too little time.
This disrupts our natural biological rhythms and encourages unhealthy behaviours, such as eating too much of the wrong things, neglecting exercise and missing out on sleep. Racial and ethnic discrimination, along with lack of educational opportunities and economic advancement take their toll on a large segment of the population in the United States.
Incarceration is the rule rather than the exception for some of the most vulnerable. Adverse experiences in infancy and childhood, including poverty, leave a lifelong imprint on the brain and body, and undermine long-term health, increasing the incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, substance abuse, anti-social behaviour and dementia.
What does it do to our brains and our bodies? What can we do about it? And is stress so multifaceted and pervasive that we could have trouble controlling it at all? But my decades of experience suggest another approach. Our collaboration, continued under the auspices of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, has shown that stress acts on the body and brain, profoundly influencing health and disease.
Our findings are nuanced, starting with the fact that not all stress is the same.
It is through homeostasis that we maintain body temperature and pH alkalinity and acidity within a narrow range, keep our tissues perfused with oxygen and our cells fed.
To maintain this steady state, our body secretes hormones such as adrenalin. Indeed, when we encounter an acute perceived threat — a large, menacing dog, for example — the hypothalamus, at the base of our brain, sets off an alarm system in our body, sending chemical signals to the pituitary gland.
The pituitary, in turn, releases ACTH Adrenocorticotropic hormone that activates our adrenal glands, next to our kidneys, to release adrenalin and the primary stress hormone, cortisol.
Adrenalin increases heart rate, blood pressure and energy supplies; cortisol increases glucose in the blood stream and has many beneficial effects on the immune system and brain, among other organs. In a fight-or-flight situation cortisol moderates immune-system responses, and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes, as well as signalling brain regions that control cognitive function, mood, motivation and fear.
Biochemical mediators such as cortisol and adrenalin help us to adapt — as long as they are turned on in a balanced way when we need them, and then turned off again when the challenge is over. When wear and tear is strongest, we call it allostatic overload, and this is what occurs in toxic stress.
An example is when bad health behaviours such as smoking, drinking and loneliness result in hypertension and belly fat, causing coronary artery blockade.
In short, the mediators that help us to adapt and maintain our homeostasis to survive can also contribute to the well-known diseases of modern life. But what really affects our health and wellbeing are the more subtle, gradual and long-term influences from our social and physical environment — our family and neighbourhood, the demands of a job, shift work and jet lag, sleeping badly, living in an ugly, noisy and polluted environment, being lonely, not getting enough physical activity, eating too much of the wrong foods, smoking, drinking too much alcohol.
All these contribute to allostatic load and overload through the same biological mediators that help us to adapt and stay alive. Even though we now know all this, we often hear that measuring our cortisol levels will tell us if we are stressed.
This reflects a misunderstanding at two levels. First, a single measure of cortisol will tell us nothing since cortisol levels go up and down within minutes — and halting this fluctuation impairs ongoing adaptive plasticity within the brain.
Moreover, cortisol fluctuates throughout the day, going up in the morning to awaken us and then declining, except for a rise at lunch time, until it falls to low levels in the evening before we go to bed.Disclaimer: These essays do not necessarily represent the beliefs of any or all of the staff of the Ontario Consultants on Religious pfmlures.com fact, since we are a multi-faith group, it is quite likely that the beliefs expressed in these essays will differ from at least some of our staff's opinions.
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