The key to understanding the relationship between stress and disease lies in understanding how the body defends itself against the threat posed by stress.
One of the main functions of the stress hormones is to increase the level of energy substrates in circulation – to provide cells with enough fuel to meet the increased demands. Understanding this effect and its effect on health requires a certain elementary appreciation of metabolism.
Basically the body knows two metabolic states: Anabolism and catabolism. Anabolism refers to the process whereby large molecules (e.g., glycoproteins, lipoproteins, etc.) are constructed from smaller molecules (amino acids, fats, sugars, etc.). These larger molecules are then used for cellular functions, growth, or as stored energy. Catabolism is exactly opposite. Catabolism refers to the process whereby larger molecules are broken down into smaller ones. This process is usually associated with the creation of energy sources.
Periods of anabolism are like economic “good times.” We invest in the house, perhaps expanding the living room, re-doing the bathroom, trading up to a larger and more expensive model of car, investing on stocks, purchasing bonds – basically building up our net worth. Stress represents a period of “economic hardship” (not unlike the present era). We cash in bonds, sell stocks, get rid of the second car, etc. All in the interest of maintaining financial balance – or equilibrium (paying bills). In terms of biology, stress is usually associated with catabolic processes, triggered by the stress hormones – breaking down larger molecules in order to create the energy resources necessary to meet the increased demands posed by the stressful event.
In response to any stressful event the body responds with increased production of two stress hormones: The catecholamines (adrenaline and noradrenaline) and the glucocorticoids. These hormones are secreted by the adrenal gland and their combined actions serve the body well under conditions that threaten equilibrium (or homeostasis).
First, these hormones promote catabolism: They break down fats (lipolysis) to increase free fatty acid and triglyceride levels; break down stored forms of sugars (glycogenolysis) which increases blood glucose levels; and they promote protein catabolism, which increases amino acid availability as substrates for gluconeogenesis – the process by which new forms of glucose are mobilized. Fatty acids and triglycerides are also used to fuel gluconeogenesis. Together, these actions assist the organism under stressful conditions by increasing the availability of energy substrates.
OK, now we have created the increase in energy supplies – our next task is to effectively distribute them to the most appropriate tissues. The increase in plasma glucocorticoids and catecholamines serve to increase heart rate, blood volume, and blood pressure. Together these actions increase blood flow and thus effectively transport the increased levels of energy supplies throughout the body. Pulmonary tone is also increased, so together you are getting more out of your heart and lungs.
Note: You may well wonder why the hell the body goes to all this trouble to respond to conditions when we are stuck in traffic waiting for a cab driver to finish his doughnut. Unless you are planning to throw the cab onto the sidewalk, it is not likely that a major increase in blood glucose or in heart rate are going to do you much good. I think that the problem here is that for the first few hundred thousand years of our existence, we faced a fairly limited range of stressors which pretty well all required the increase in energy substrates and heart rate.
The neuroendocrine responses to stress evolved under conditions related to our hunter- gatherer existence. Now few of us pay for the new Honda or the vacation in California by hunting or gathering, but the biological responses remain. And this is a serious problem. Biologically, we are in some ways fish out of water. So the anger, frustration, and fear that are provoked by being late for a job interview while stuck in traffic stimulate almost the same responses as being chased by a lion. Aren’t we an interesting species!
We spoke above about the effects of stress hormones on metabolism, the fact that they promote catabolism, increasing blood levels of glucose and other energy substrates. The latter include free fatty acids and triglycerides, derived from the break down of lipids (fats). When the stress becomes chronic, so that catecholamine and glucocorticoid levels are consistently elevated, blood levels of triglycerides, free fatty acids, cholesterol and glucose are also elevated.
In response to the elevated glucose levels, insulin levels rise, but insulin is ineffective under these circumstances, since its effects are thwarted by the glucocorticoids. More insulin is released – with the effect that the individual becomes less and less sensitive to insulin. Insulin down-regulates (i.e., decreases) levels of its own receptor, so the more insulin that is secreted, the lower the levels of insulin receptors – the protein with which insulin interacts to have its effect (storage of glucose in cells).
The individual becomes insulin resistant, a hallmark of diabetes. Because insulin action is dampened, the individual becomes less able to store glucose from carbohydrates, and glucose tolerance wanes. A diabetic-like state emerges. Under these conditions, carbohydrate and fat metabolism are regulated by the elevated levels of glucocorticoids and catecholamines. The body becomes more dependent upon lipid by-products for energy sources, fats are preferentially formed from new carbohydrate stores. These effects likely explain why stress is often implicated in the onset of diabetes.
In addition, cholesterol trafficking becomes less efficient. Actually, this statement should be qualified. Stress will increase levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL also called bad cholesterol). High levels of LDL serve to keep cholesterol in circulation, and to decrease its rate of elimination from the body. In the short-term this could be advantageous, keeping an energy substrate like cholesterol around for a longer period of time when the body could use it, in the long-term, of course, this is reason for serious concern. Here again is the theme: hormones that help you in the short-term can harm you in the long run.
There is also a decrease in high density lipoprotein (good cholesterol, or more accurately good cholesterol storage and transport). Now we have increased blood triglycerides, cholesterol, free fatty acids. This is the ideal scenario for artherogenesis. Arteries begin to become clogged. Blood pressure and heart rate are fluctuating, often in the upper range. For an individual predisposed to heart disease, this is a dangerous set of circumstances.
Glucocorticoids compromise the function of neurons in the cortex and hippocampus, brain regions which are of critical importance for learning and memory (particularly for the acquisition of new information). Damage in these areas in humans and other animals results in seriously impaired intellectual function. Neurons function and communicate with other neurons via electrochemical processes. Neurotransmitters act on other neurons and change the electrical potentials of these cells.
Can’t see how you’re going to make that deadline? Got too much to do and not enough time? Do you feel a constant tension in your muscles? Not able to relax? Can’t sleep? Do you feel unable to make decisions; you feel frozen and stuck? These can all be signs of stress.
Learn how to relieve your stress and anxiety with a simple technique that has gained attention from medical professionals and laypersons all over the world. The technique is called the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT).
The Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) have taken Einstein’s discoveries (that everything is energy, including the human body) and married them with the ancient tradition of acupuncture.
The success of EFT lies in the balancing of the body’s subtle energies that flow through the body, in much the same way as blood flows through veins. This balancing is done with an elegant sort of emotional acupuncture. Instead of using needles, specific points on the body are stimulated by tapping with the fingertips.
EFT is so simple that it can be easily learned by anyone and self-applied. In cases that are more complex it may require assistance from an experienced EFT Practitioner.
How do you use EFT to relieve Stress & Anxiety?
EFT is done by using your fingertips to tap on easily found acupressure points on the body. These points are shown below and are described in detail. They are located on both sides of the face and body.
Please note that the points identified here are considered a ‘shortcut’ method to the original Basic Recipe described in the free EMT Manual that can be found at the EMT website http://www.tap4health.com/ .
The tapping is done with the same firmness as you might drum your fingers on the desk. Use the middle three fingers of either hand when tapping so that you don’t need to be worried about the exact location of the points. Use both hands and tap on both sides at the same time is preferable.
The tapping is combined with a focusing phrase that keeps your mind on the problem, in thiscase, the stress/anxiety. When we focus on the problem and tap on the acupressure points, the energy system in our body is balanced giving emotional relief.
In this case we will use a focusing phrase for your stress/anxiety such as: “Too much to do at work” or “This job interview anxiety” or “This need to strangle so-and-so”. The more specific you are about the reason for the stress/anxiety the better.
EFT Tapping Points
Karate Chop Point
Middle of fleshy part on outside of hand between the top of the wrist and the base of the little finger.
Top of Head* (HD)
On the Top of the Head, with fingers back-to-back right at the crown.
At the beginning of the eyebrow, just above and to one side of the nose.
Side of Eye (SE)
On the outside of your eye socket near the corner of the eye
Under Eyes (UE)
On the bone under an eye at the bottom of your eye socket, about one inch below your pupil.
Under Nose (UN)
On the small area between the bottom of your nose and the top of your upper lip.
Chin Point (CP)
Midway between the point of your chin and the bottom of your lower lip. Even though it is not directly on the point of the chin, we call it the chin point because it is descriptive enough for people to understand easily
Collarbone Point (CB)
The junction where the sternum (breastbone), collarbone and the first rib meet. This is a very important point and in acupuncture is referred to as K (kidney) 27. To locate it, first place your forefinger on the U-shaped notch at the top of the breastbone (about where a man would knot his tie). From the bottom of the U, move your forefinger down toward the navel 1 inch and then go to the left (or right) 1 inch. While not actually on the collarbone, we call it the collarbone point since it’s a lot easier to say than “junction where the sternum (breastbone), collarbone and the first rib meet.”
Under Arms (UA)
On the side of the body. For men, it is the same height as their nipples. For woman, it is in the middle of the bra strap. It is about 4 inches below the armpit.
Wrist Points* (WR)
On the inside of each wrist. Tap together by crossing one wrist over the other with the insides facing.
Before starting the procedure, take a reading of how stressed/anxious you feel so that you can tell if there is any change. We do this by picking a number on a scale from 0 – 10, where 0 is relaxed and 10 is the worst the stress/anxiety has ever been. If you are unsure of the number then guess, as this will usually be the correct number. Write the number down so that you can compare it after applying the procedure.
1. On a scale of 0-10, where 10 is the worst, how intense is the feeling? Write down this number.
2. Start and continue tapping on the Karate Chop Point while saying the following: “Even though I feel stressed and anxious, I accept how I feel right now.” “Even though I feel stressed and anxious about this, I choose to take this moment to relax”
“Even though I feel stressed and anxious, with too much to do and not enough hours in the day, I completely accept myself as human.”
3. Continue tapping on the remaining points, from the head down, tap a few times while saying the focusing phrase. So, for example, start tapping on the top of the head and say “Too much to do” Then move to the eyebrow point, start tapping, and say “Too much to do”. Continue until you have tapped on each of the illustrated tapping points. Remember to use a phrase that describes your particular circumstances.
4. Take another reading of the stress/anxiety on a scale of 0-10 and compare this to the questions (a), (b), and (c) below:
a. Is the new number lower than the one you wrote down in Step 1 i.e. has the stress/anxiety reduced? Great! Repeat the steps 1-4 until the number is at zero or doesn’t go any lower.
b. Is the number the same but the feeling has now moved or changed in some way? Awesome! You’re making progress. Make up a new focusing phrase to describe the new feeling and repeat steps 1-4.
c. Is the new number the same or higher than the number you wrote down in Step 1 i.e. has the feeling intensified in some way? STAY CALM. While you might think you have done something wrong, you have not. You are actually getting closer to the resolving the real issue behind the feeling. Please read the Advanced Notes below before repeating the procedure.
If, after a round of tapping, the feeling has not changed or has even intensified then its time to put on your Detective’s hat and delve deeper into the problem. It is very likely there is a deeper emotional issue related to the feeling that you need to find. To identify the emotional issue behind the stress/anxiety, ask yourself the following questions:
• When did the stress/anxiety first start?
• What was happening in your life at that time?
• What is the earliest time in your life that you remember having this feeling?
• Who does the feeling remind you of?
• Do you experience this stress/anxiety in a certain region of your body? If you have trouble coming up with something, try guessing what this could be about as
this will usually be the right memory.
Now that you have some answers, make up a new focusing phrase to describe this memory e.g. “this car accident anxiety”, or “this divorce stress”, or “this public speaking anxiety”. The more specific to you are the better. Let common sense guide you. Repeat the tapping steps 1-4 with this new focusing phrase.
Again, evaluate your results at the end of the round of tapping and proceed from there. Using this procedure will often achieve lasting results when nothing else has worked!