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Chronic Stress

Defining Chronic Stress

How do I even begin to try to explain something that is so ineffable? Through the lens of biology…

The biology of the stress response is an evolutionary preserved phenomena that helped our ancestors navigate crucial situations like the evasion of a predator or periods of starvation. However, as we have continued to evolve, and as access to food and shelter have increased, the modern day stressors are diametrically different than what our ancestors were exposed to.

Your current modern day stressors may include the morning commute, social media, or the increased prices of eggs. All of which are understandable(especially the egg prices), but one key difference is that these modern stressors are low grade, and chronic in nature. Conversely, the stress that our ancestors were exposed to were vital to their survival, and more than likely didn’t happen on regular basis.

Acute stress is defined as a adaptive physiological and psychological response to a specific traumatic event. This response is advantageous as it heightens focus and performance leading to improved survival. Again, if a saber tooth tiger is looking for its next meal, and your on the menu, a stress response is adaptive and obviously warranted. 

Chronic stress is a little more difficult to characterize as there are many modern day factors that can elicit a low grade, chronic stress response. This reaction its highly dependent on an individuals genetic hardwiring as well as their perception of the stressor. For example, some individuals may be chronically stressed from comparing their lifestyle to those on social media, while others find social media as an outlet to decrease stress.

The Biology of Chronic Stress

The stress response is governed by a physiological system called the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis (HPA Axis).  When the brain/body encounters a stressful stimuli a cascade is initiated that leads to the synthesis of a stress hormone called cortisol as well as the concomitant release of catecholamines. This acute and regulated release of endogenous hormones leads to arousal, increased focus, and improved cognitive function in the short-term. However, if this response is chronic it can lead to impaired feedback inhibition of the HPA axis which leads to deleterious effects on our overall health. 


The Effects of Chronic Stress

Chronic stress that is left unmanaged can lead to an increased susceptibility to:


-Digestive Issues


-Cardiovascular Disease

-Weight Gain

-Hormonal Imbalances 

-Memory Impairment 

These health issues secondary to chronic stress are significant,  and this is why it’s so important to address the underlying causes of your stress and treat appropriately. 


Functional Medicine & Chronic Stress

Functional Medicine is an excellent option for patients that are wanting to address the root causes of their stress and for those who are unable to manage their chronic stress.  At EvoHealth Kansas Functional Medicine we have the ability to assess your cortisol levels and implement personalized treatment protocols to help you target and manage your chronic stress.



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