Originally published September 20 2008
How a Stressful State Leads to Chronic Fatigue (Part 1)
by Teya Skae
(NaturalNews) Chronic Fatigue with its debilitating constant tiredness, is a condition of our times, affecting teenagers, as well as men and women of all ages. But have you ever wondered what its real cause might be? Part 1 of this article series examines the hidden causes of Chronic Fatigue.
It might surprise you to learn stress is the culprit.
There are various kinds of stresses, but the one thing they all have in common is that it is always about survival. Stress is classified as a stress when it impacts our survival capacity in some way.
Let's define 5 major stress categories
1. Physical survival or basic life needs: enough food, shelter, clothing, money to get by. Very basic survival needs.
2. Biochemical stress: sleep deprivation, hormone imbalances, malnutrition and malabsorption, drugs and too much caffeine or stimulants.
3. Mental: work commitments, deadlines, constant work pressure, running away or avoiding work related confrontations, dealing with bosses and executives or study/exam pressure, over thinking, over analyzing. Many people experience this stress all the time.
4. Environmental stress: noise pollution and chemical toxicity from environment or sudden chemical toxicity such as mercury leakage from amalgam fillings or inhaling paint fumes.
5. Emotional stress: anything to do with any relationship, human connectedness, family, self worth etc., love and bonding.
Out of all the stress categories, the Mental and Emotional stresses create the most havoc in your mind/body system with debilitating symptoms particularly if the stress is prolonged.
A recent study on work-related stress is revealing, (http://au.news.yahoo.com/080123/15/15lx7.htm...) .
10,000 British public servants were assessed over a 12 year period by a team from University College in London. It was the first large-scale population study looking at the effects of stress from everyday working life on heart disease. During that time, seven surveys were conducted and chronically stressed workers were found -- people determined to be under severe pressure in the first two of the surveys -- had 68 per cent higher risk of developing heart disease.
Epidemiologist and study leader Tarani Chandola was quoted saying the findings suggest stress induced biological changes may play a more direct role than previously thought. This study provides the strongest evidence yet of how on-the-job stress raises the risk of heart disease by disrupting the body's internal systems.
"In the study, stressed workers also had lowered heart rate variability -- a sign of a poorly functioning, weak heart -- and higher-than-normal levels of cortisol, a "stress" hormone that provides a burst of energy for a fight-or-flight response.
"Too much cortisol circulating in the blood stream can damage blood vessels and the heart... If you are constantly stressed out, these biological stress systems become abnormal," Chandola said.
So what does Stress have to do with Chronic Fatigue?
Everything! According to Dr. Hans Selye, also known as the 'father of stress response' because he was the first medical doctor to elaborate on the GAS (General Adaptation Syndrome) response, ongoing stress leads to Chronic Fatigue and if not dealt with, complete adrenal failure and heart failure can be the result.
As an author of 1,700 scholarly papers and 39 books on how stress affects our entire system, Selye stated that headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure, anxiety/panic attacks and cardiovascular and kidney diseases are brought on by stress.
"Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older," says Dr. Hans Selye.
What happens when any form of Stress impacts your life?
Stage 1: Alarm Reaction known as 'fight or flight'. In this stage your body is geared to ward off the impacting stress which could be anything or anyone, including our loved ones, any pressures for our time, money or love and challenges to our identity in any way.
In this stage, the body is alarmed by the stressors and mounts an aggressive anti-stress response to reduce stress levels. Some doctors call this the Early Fatigue stage.
Stage 2: Resistance Response. This is where the stress goes for some days, weeks, even months. In this hyper vigilant state, the body is resisting the ongoing stress but at the expense of the adrenal glands over-pumping the stress hormones.
Stage 3: Exhaustion. When the resistance stage goes on for longer than the body can physically cope with, exhaustion sets in after one or two years. In this stage, people normally start to experience Fibromyalgia, aches/pains, back-ache, muscle tension, severely suppressed immune system and muscle weakness. Many experience sluggishness and weight gain.
Stage 4: Failure. After a couple of years of over-pumping stress hormones daily, eventually, the adrenal glands become totally exhausted. People at this stage have a high chance of cardiovascular collapse, nervous breakdown, and according to Dr. Selye -- total collapse, even death.
To understand how and why Chronic Fatigue happens to us, we need a basic understanding of the functions of the adrenal glands. These are walnut-sized glands located on top of each kidney. Their purpose is to help the body deal with stress and help us to survive.
Adrenals are important control centers for many of the body's hormones. The outer layer of the gland, called the adrenal cortex, produces hormones including cortisol, DHEA, estrogen and testosterone. The centers of the glands produce adrenaline, the hormone named after them.
The basic task of your adrenal glands is to rush all your body's resources into "fight or flight" mode by increasing production of adrenaline and other hormones. When healthy, your adrenals can instantly increase your heart rate and blood pressure, release your energy stores for immediate use, slow your digestion and other secondary functions, and sharpen your senses.
When you are stressed, your adrenal glands produce cortisol in excess. Cortisol is also known as the death hormone, because it is highly toxic and catabolizes (literally tears down) muscle mass for energy, your organs, diminishes your strength and your speed of recovery and makes people unable to cope with daily life. Adrenal fatigue also known as Chronic Fatigue occurs when the amount of stress exceeds the capacity of the body to recover from the stressful challenges.
And that list of stressful challenges is endless, including:
* lack of sleep
* a demanding boss
* the threat of losing your job
* financial pressures
* personality conflicts
* yo-yo dieting
* relationship turmoil
* death or illness of a loved one
* skipping meals
* reliance on stimulants like caffeine and starchy carbs
* digestive problems
* illness or infection
* unresolved emotional issues from our past or present
The result is adrenal glands that are constantly on high alert.
These are common symptoms that are directly related to stress
* Weight gain around the waist and inability to lose it.
* Regular bouts of colds/flu and other respiratory ailments.
* Reduced sex drive.
* Poor memory
* Lack of energy in the mornings and also in the afternoon between 3 to 5 pm.
* Need coffee or stimulants to get going in the morning.
* Pain in the upper back or neck with no apparent reasons
* Mild depression
* Food allergies
* Increased effort to perform daily tasks
* Dry and thin skin
* Hypoglycemia – low blood sugar
* Unexplained hair loss
Every challenge to the mind and body creates a demand on the adrenal glands by secreting stress hormones, one of which is cortisol and when the levels are in excess it literally destroys the body.
The destructive effect of high cortisol levels
In its normal function, cortisol helps us meet the stressful challenges, by converting proteins into energy, releasing glycogen and counteracting inflammation. For a short time, that's okay. But at sustained high levels, cortisol gradually tears your body down.
Stress, as noted earlier, raises your cortisol levels and this affects not only your body, but also your whole brain function by reducing your ability to focus/concentrate and remember things, making you somewhat incoherent. If this is not bad enough, cortisol then diminishes your immune system, making you unable to 'turn up' for your life.
Why does it happen this way?
Obviously, to force us from 'soldiering on' so you are forced to deal with the stress itself, whatever it may be. It's usually at this point that people start seeking some form of professional help, as opposed to compensating and pretending they're coping with everything -- when the body is clearly in 'danger alarm mode', because the stress is not being addressed and the symptoms are piling up.
The mind is very good at fooling itself into a coping mechanism, yet your body will always reflect signs of stress. Often, people ignore them and start 'micromanaging' symptoms (the term I use in clinic when people focus on 1 symptom at a time), rather than understanding their own patterns of survival by looking at emotions/attitudes towards situations in their life and thus 'macro managing' their symptoms.
Hidden causes of stress
It's important to emphasize the role of emotional factors. Guilt, pain from past hurts, self-destructive habits, unresolved relationship problems -- your past and present emotional experience may serve as an ever-present stressor. Dealing with these problems directly is much more beneficial than trying to micromanage symptoms which lead to focusing on the symptoms rather than the causes, the stress itself.
Thoughts and emotions and our belief systems have the most debilitating effect on our mind/body system. Powerful emotions arise out of stress -- fear, frustration, anger, sadness, apathy, hopelessness -- and usually overwhelm when the person is too exhausted to deal with anything. All these have a profoundly toxic effect on the mind/body as they force the adrenals to release more stress hormones.
In summary, our ability to handle stress, physical or emotional, is a cornerstone to our human survival. Our adrenal glands are equipped to ward off and modulate all stress. When these glands become dysfunctional and/or exhausted, our body's ability to handle stress reduces, and multiple symptoms will arise.
Even though it is always the adrenals that need special attention in the initial recovery process of Chronic Fatigue, for complete recovery it is necessary to identify the emotional or mental stress, acknowledging the impact it has on the mind/body. Balancing the stress allows people to take responsibility for their symptoms and surrender to their own healing process.
Balancing Chronic Fatigue
In part 2, we will explore ways to address and balance Chronic Fatigue from the mind/body perspective by looking at practical ways of macro-managing this debilitating condition, instead of micro-managing each individual symptom which usually leads to more frustration or more exhaustion. Having the resources and the right tools to support the mind/body system during this very stressful time helps sufferers to retrain their mind-body system and enable them to respond more appropriately to similar stresses in the future.
Better Health Channel 2007, Chronic fatigue syndrome, State Government of Victoria, Melbourne, viewed 30 March 2007, (http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhc...)
MDA Internet 2005, Reed Group Ltd, Colorado, viewed 27 April 2007, (http://www.mdainternet.com) (secure site) .
M.E./Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Society of Victoria Inc. 2006, What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
M.E./Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Society of Victoria Inc, Melbourne, viewed 27 April 2007
About the authorTeya Skae M.A. ATMS
Corporate Wellness Presenter/Researcher and Author
As the founder of Empowered Living Teya has developed a results based I.D.E.A.L Solutions for increasing your energy, focus and personal Success!
Teya is also a QUIT smoking specialist with proven results in one session guaranteed.
For Tangible Results and Solutions to Fat Loss, Physical, Emotional and Mental Fitness visit
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