Adapting to a stressful environment: general adaptation syndrome

Specific Health Concern 4 May 2017

Too much noise, constant demands, boundless constraints and permanent exposure to stress can cause physiological upheavals that lead to illnesses. We must learn how to cope in order to maintain our health and well-being.

Acute stress and chronic stress

Stress is a normal physiological reaction that allows us to respond to aggression or changes in our environment.

If a lion is chasing us or a car is heading directly towards us, our body secretes adrenaline and noradrenaline that bring on a burst of energy, allowing us to run (away from the lion) or jump onto the sidewalk (to avoid the car).

This adrenaline rush causes the heart to beat faster and blood pressure to rise, promoting blood and glucose flow to the brain and muscles.

In this case, stress is positive as it can save our lives by triggering useful behavior: the flight or fight response. 

The problem is when stress becomes a chronic or daily occurrence, and even worse, when we are unable to react through flight or fight.

When your working environment is unbearable and your boss screams and shouts at you, you cannot leave the office (flight), or yell back at him (fight) as you risk losing your job. All you can do is keep a low profile, while your stress hormones (adrenaline and glucocorticoids) turn against you and negatively impact your body.

One of the main consequences is the disturbance of fat and sugar metabolism, leading to food cravings and weight gain. Stress can also trigger digestive problems, such as stomach ulcers or cardiovascular-related conditions like high blood pressure.


The most frequent causes of stress

  1. Health: yours and that of your family and friends
  2. Job: excessive work load, little recognition, double shift of working mothers
  3. Family conflicts
  4. Financial concerns
  5. Living conditions: housing, noise, commuting

In any case, the situations that we must endure without being able to vent are those that cause the most harm to our body.


A healthy lifestyle for better stress management

The good news is that by improving your lifestyle, you will be able to more easily adapt to stress. A healthier lifestyle won’t make stressful situations disappear – your boss will not be any less tyrannical – but it will be easier for you to take a step back and confront the situation in a more level-headed manner.

Here are some recommendations to improve your daily life:

  • Eat high quality food like fruits and vegetables rich in minerals and vitamins, fatty fish packed with omega 3, and legumes and walnuts containing magnesium
  • Sleep at least 8 hours a night, with as little noise and light as possible in order to increase melatonin levels
  • Practice meditation and mindfulness
  • Exercise regularly

Natural ways of fighting stress

The beneficial effects of magnesium

Magnesium has beta blocking action, i.e. it reduces physical reactions to stress such as palpitations, trembling and stomach aches. Please note: a lack of magnesium lowers our defenses to stress, and chronic stress causes a significant loss of magnesium.

This becomes a vicious circle.


The role of Omega 3

Omega 3 increases neural plasticity and allows for more effective stress management.


Beneficial plants

  • Hawthorn fights against the negative effects of adrenaline, such as palpitations and trembling.
  • Eleutherococcus and rhodiola are adaptogenic plants, which means they helps us adapt.  They stimulate us when we are stressed as well as help us to relax when we are stressed.