- HEALTH & NUTRITION
The stress-energy connection
Low energy and fatigue are among some of the most common obstacles that stop people from living a life with less limits. But before you overanalyze the cause of your exhaustion, it might pay to consider if stress could be the culprit.
May 29, 2023|
May 29, 2023
Stress can mess with the body in many ways. It can disrupt sleep, dampen your mood and motivation – and it can cause the kind of fatigue that’s difficult to overcome with rest alone. Stress manifests in the body in different ways, and even the smallest parts of you are affected by it. Learning about the stress response and what’s going on internally will help you realize that as much as stress itself taxes the body and drains your energy, it’s the way that you think about stress that can cause the most damage.
The stress response
Also known as ‘fight or flight’, the stress response is something that is hard-wired into all of us, and it’s evolved to help the body cope with – you guessed it, stress. This response is a survival mechanism that once kept humans safe from legitimate dangers like famine, floods or being chased by a hungry saber-toothed tiger. The purpose of the fight or flight response is to help mobilize the body’s energy and rise to any challenge in the face of real danger. The trouble is that our environment has changed much faster than our body has been able to keep up with. So although we may not be fighting for survival like our ancestors once were, we are exposed to a steady stream of modern-day stressors that our body can perceive to be just as bad. This means that anytime you feel a heightened sense of stress, those same mechanisms are triggered in an attempt to help you to ‘fight or flight’. Your heart rate increases, blood pumps to your muscles and hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are released to help you utilize energy – immediately.
But what happens if there’s no immediate threat to your survival? Instead, it could be that you’re just about to walk into a job interview, or you’re preparing to give an important presentation. While these situations aren't life-threatening, they can still induce the same fight or flight response based on how you feel about them. With the consistent exposure to these smaller everyday triggers, your stress response can become overstimulated and overreactive. This means that overtime, not only will you be less able to cope with stress, but you’ll also be more prone to feeling stressed out by things that never used to phase you.
The effects that stress has on the body as a whole, has a lot to do with your stress hormones. As your chief stress hormone, cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands and regulated by the HPA-axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) when your fight or flight response is triggered. In a healthy stress response, cortisol rises to help the body make use of its energy reserves, then returns back to normal levels once the perceived stress has passed. If you’re dealing with constant stress – whether that’s financially, physically, work related or within your personal life, your stress response can become dysregulated, and cortisol can remain high. While this stress hormone is crucial for normal body function, it can cause a host of imbalances when it’s produced in excess.
The stress-cell-energy connection
The hormonal cascade set off by your stress response is so widespread that it affects even the smallest parts of you. Your cells – and your mitochondria that live inside them – play a crucial role in the production of energy, and they’re responsible for generating fuel for your entire body. Because the fight or flight response increases the demands of your body, it places a heavy burden on mitochondria to generate more energy. If you’re constantly in a state of fight or flight, your mitochondria will struggle to meet these increased energy demands – which of course, impacts your ability to feel energized.
On top of this, there's also the invisible stress load that your cells face on a daily basis – also known as free radicals. Much like an exhaust from a car engine, free radicals are produced by your mitochondria as a by-product of generating energy. While they aren’t all bad, the accumulation of free radicals can cause cells to become damaged. Although the daily creation of new energy can increase free radicals, environmental, dietary, and physical stressors can increase free radical production and contribute to cell stress.
How stress impacts your energy
Although some of us may feel superhuman at times, the body isn’t built to withstand constant exposure to stress for long periods. While initially you may wake up with enough momentum to get through the day, living with an overactive stress response can slowly start to rob you of your energy. There are 3 stages of burnout that help explain the way stress causes low energy levels. Also known as ‘General Adaptation Syndrome’, these three stages were identified by medical doctor and researcher Hans Syle in the 1950’s - and they’re now commonly recognized as part of our typical stress response as humans. Understanding how the body responds to stress and how each stage relates to one another can help you recognize the signs and better cope with whatever comes your way.
The alarm stage is your initial response to stress. It’s the alarming of your fight or flight response, and the cascade of hormonal reactions that follow. Stress hormones are released to increase your energy availability, blood flow surges to your heart and muscles, and the body gears up to protect itself from danger.
After the fight or flight response has been triggered and the stressful situation has passed, the body switches back to functioning as normal. Cortisol lowers, your heart rate slows down and the repair process is initiated. If the perceived stress has been overcome or resolved, the body will return to its pre-stress state – but you'll know from experience that some stressors can’t simply be ‘overcome’, and that stress can often accumulate overtime.
If a stressful situation isn’t resolved, the body will continue functioning from the ‘alarm’ state and your tolerance for stress will start to reduce. This is when the classic ‘tired but wired’ phenomenon comes into play. In this stage, you may find you have trouble getting to sleep or waking up, feel jittery or irritable, run down, and you’ve probably developed a strong relationship with caffeine or energy drinks (with your reliance on them increasing by the day). Although it may feel like you’re getting by, the body is dealing with an increased stress load and by pushing through – it can start to make things worse. If you find yourself in the resistance phase for too long, you can reach the final stage of exhaustion.
After dealing with accumulative stress for a prolonged period, your body may exhaust itself of its physical, mental and emotional reserves in an attempt to cope. Stress hormones like cortisol can only be produced in excess for so long before the body enters a dysregulated state. Trying to adapt to constant stress with no relief places a heavy burden on your entire body, and it hugely impacts your ability to meet your own needs – let alone anyone else's. With the continuous signaling of the fight or flight response, plus the many failed attempts to recover from the initial stress – the body is no longer equipped to fight stress.
Learning about the way your body adapts to stress is key to helping you recognize the signs of burnout, so you can replenish your energy stores before the balance dips into the red. In any one of these stress stages, your energy and capacity to live a full life is compromised.
How MitoQ helps
We believe that the ability to sustain great energy levels starts with your cells. When your cells are healthy, your body is better equipped to navigate stressful situations – and fuel you with the energy to overcome them. Supporting your cell health by living a healthy lifestyle, meeting your daily nutrient needs and taking MitoQ each morning will help you generate more energy to combat stress of all kinds.
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