It’s something we’ve all felt — and in many cases, it’s a valuable and necessary part of everyday life. In others, however, it can be debilitating and destructive to our health and well being. Let’s take a look at the good, the bad and potential ways to manage.
What is stress?
Stress is any change in the environment that requires the human body to respond. In fact, stress is key for survival — it’s the body’s way of reacting to both the good and the bad. It can come from an event, thought or experience that makes you feel frustrated, angry, nervous or overwhelmed. And, it often manifests as a feeling of physical or emotional tension in the body. When your body detects stress, the brain responds by stimulating the body to produce hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.
Stress is a normal, healthy part of life and the human body is designed to experience and effectively respond to it. But susceptibility to stress varies from person to person and there are many different forms, such as environmental, emotional and biological stress. These are all called stressors.
Can stress be a good thing?
Stress can be positive, such as getting a job promotion, having a child or taking on new responsibilities, as well as keeping us attentive to our environment to avoid danger. In fact, studies have shown that short-term stress can boost the immune system. When the body tolerates stress and uses it to enhance performance, stress can be positive, forcing us to adapt and strengthen our abilities. This action-enhancing stress provides a competitive edge, preparing us for future stressors. And, it’s a reminder to adjust our lifestyle to better cope and maintain optimal health.
Is stress detrimental to our health?
Chronic stress, on the other hand, can be incredibly problematic and harmful to our health. Stress becomes “distress” when we are exposed to continuous levels of negative tension without any relief in between. And it can cause immediate physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach discomfort, chest pain and sleeping issues. Ongoing stress can change immune cell genes and lead to inflammation, which can weaken the immune system and ultimately, manifest itself in illness or disease. Chronic stress is linked to high blood pressure, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and in extreme cases, even cancer and heart disease. And research suggests that long-term stress can also exacerbate certain existing symptoms, conditions and diseases.
Some statistics on stress:
- Over 50% of Americans experience emotional disorders in their lifetimes, often due to chronic, untreated stressful experiences
- 43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress
- 75% to 90% of all doctor's office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the workplace
- Stress costs American industries more than $300 billion annually
How does the Endocannabinoid System regulate stress?
The Endocannabinoid System regulates stress by working to maintain homeostasis, or balance. There are cannabinoid receptors in our brain that control emotional behavior, mood, fear and stress. When we’re exposed to emotional, environmental or biological stress, these receptors are activated to release Anandamide, the “bliss molecule,” which reduces panic and anxiety and enables us to effectively respond to the stress.
Preclinical research in mice shows that a healthy Endocannabinoid System improves stress resilience and reduces the residual post-traumatic anxiety, fear and panic behaviors associated with stress. And while our bodies produce their own cannabinoid compounds, called endocannabinoids, we may be able to further support our Endocannabinoid System with cannabinoids (called phytocannabinoids) found in the hemp and marijuana plants. Emerging — and promising — human clinical data has shown the efficacy of cannabinoid-rich extracts in maintaining a balanced ECS and ensuring healthy stress response.