Unpleasant or dangerous situations cause changes in the way our human body works. When, for example, a dangerous dog barks in our direction or a car approaches us at a speed in traffic, the body enters an alert state in order to prepare us to overcome the threat.
Stress hormones released by the brain at such times play an essential role in the adaptation process and make up a complex system that can have a great impact on our lifestyle. The evolution of the human brain has involved finding mechanisms that maximize the chances of survival in the event of a danger, and this is represented by the production of stress hormones: adrenaline, norepinephrine or cortisol.
What are the Roles of Adrenaline, Norepinephrine and Cortisol?
These three hormones are the main factors that intervene to give us an impulse of energy and determination in critical moments.
Adrenaline is secreted by the adrenal glands and is responsible for our immediate reactions to stressful situations. It increases heart rate, blood pressure and the energy level.
Norepinephrine mostly fulfils the same role as the adrenaline, namely to make us more aware and more focused on everything that surrounds us.
Cortisol , on the other hand, is not released immediately by the glands, instead, it takes a few minutes until it intervenes. It has the role of maintaining the balance of body processes in complicated situations and of reducing those that are not needed at that moment, such as digestion or the growth of the immune system, in order to allocate the energy resources to the systems that need it immediately. Cortisol can also adapt the mood, the level of motivation or fear of a person.
Which Are the Negative Effects that Stress Hormones May Trigger?
Although the comfort of modern life presents far less hazards that can be fatal, compared to thousands of years ago, stress is a fundamental issue of today's society. The rhythm is more and more accelerated, the tasks are more diverse or more complicated, the more volatile social context can create a high level of unease for a person, a feeling which the brain will interpret as a state of danger. In this situation, a constant state of stress can cause hormonal disturbances and serious conditions.
Once a potential danger has passed, bodily functions return to normal, but stress, perceived as a state of danger, will cause the stress hormones to be released constantly from the adrenal glands and will cause conditions such as:
The way in which we manage to cope with stressful situations, largely depends on two factors:
- Genetic : every person is programmed differently to manage the moments of unease. The genes that control our response to stress keep us, for the most part of the time, in an emotional state of balance, but some people may suffer from disturbances that will generate a different behaviour.
- Life experiences : people who have been through traumatic moments are vulnerable to stressful situations. They may turn out to be less capable of managing a difficult situation, which can have negative consequences.