Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I always thought I thrived on stress.
I was wrong.
So what is the HPA Axis?

The HPA axis is the relationship between the hypothalamus, the pituitary and adrenal glands. Research is showing that people with Chronic Fatigue and/or Fibromyalgia have a real problem in this area.

The hypothalamus is at the base of the brain. It controls body temperature, hunger, thirst, mood, your sex drive and your sleep. The pituitary gland is also at the base of the brain. It controls our metabolism, blood pressure and stress response. The adrenals are at the top of the kidneys. They produce cortisol, adrenalin and norepinephine. 

So basically dysfunction in this area causes low body temperature, digestion problems, problems in the immune system, problems with energy and problems in the response to stress trauma or injury and pain and those are just the highlights.

Does this sound familiar?

The stress response is the body protecting you. I loved the feeling of flight or fight and lived that way on a daily basis. It was more powerful than any drug. I was typical Type A and thought that was the way to really live. If I wasn't going at mach two with my hair on fire then I felt like a wimp. What is interesting is that many of the women I worked with in new home sales now suffer from Fibromyalgia. I don't think it's a coincidence either. We lived under high pressure, long hours and high intensity. The stress was unbelievable. What I didn't realize was that I was burning myself out. I don't think any of use had a clue what was happening to our bodies.  

So what came first?
The chicken or the egg?

I'm not saying that any of us who are Type A personalities did this to ourselves. Did we have problems in this axis to begin with and then the stress just exacerbated the symptoms? Or did the stress and trauma put too much pressure on these glands and they weren't able to deal with it?

I remember the feeling. My muscles would tighten and my heart would beat faster. It seems like your senses are sharper. What I interpreted as daily living was my bodies way of protecting me. It would enable me to rise to the challenge of survival. 

I was in survival mode.
To the max.

When the stress is greater than the body is able to tolerate you are at risk for a stress related disorder. The heart becomes more susceptible to disease because of the increased cortisol and adrenaline in your already compromised system. The body doesn't differentiate between physical and emotional stress. Stress is stress.

If chronic stress can rewire the brain then I must be really screwed up. The body needs to shut off the switch and therein lies the problem. The stress felt so normal for so long that it tends to give you a warm, fuzzy feeling but the price that you pay for that over-achieving, perfectionist, familiar feeling is a very heavy toll on your system. 

You've basically put a big bulls eye on your back.

And back then I still didn't pay attention.

I pay attention now.