Stress 101: Feeling burnt out

Stress affects us all in varying degrees. When the feelings of stress override our natural ability to bounce back we are drained and even more stressed. In this post we will talk about what is called HPA axis dysfunction and the progression of burnout.

Stress is actually a good thing. It becomes bad when it is chronic and we don’t get the rest we need to for our bodies to continue keeping on. There are many ways to talk about stress but today we are specifically talking about the HPA axis and it’s role in the chemical control of stress.

When stress is perceived, our hypothalamus, a part of the brain, releases a hormone called CRH which stimulates another part of the brain, pituitary gland, to secrete ACTH. ACTH is another hormone, that directly acts on the adrenal gland to secrete cortisol. Cortisol is one of the main indicators of a stress response in the body that can be measured within saliva.

Normally these hormones are kept in a fine balance so that there are no extremes. This is mostly performed on circadian cycle, or your sleep cycle. Cortisol normally should be dominant in the morning to wake up and taper off throughout the day for when you sleep. Cortisol acts mainly to shunt activity away from long term metabolic processes such as digestion toward those that mainly keep you alive, like finding something to eat. When cortisol is secreted on a chronic basis it literally shuts off activity to places that help to regulate homeostasis. Such things as digestion gets messed up and doesn’t function right. It suppresses immune system function as well.

So if you are under chronic stress for a long time even though you may feel like everything is going okay, your cells say a different matter. So that feeling of burn out is literally true you are burning through your bodies cells and tissues in this state.

So when thinking of stress it is not just, “ I feel stressed all the time”, it is literally breaking down tissues in your body that helps you to function normally such as brain tissue.

As we go further in depth into the physiology of the stress response I want to point your attention to the fact that cortisol is great when it is regulated the right way. Further blog posts will discuss the solution to the feeling of burnt out.


Dr. K