A stressful situation can come in many ways and can be
activated by numerous factor and maybe you will find something
you recognize here:
• persistent worry about something
• sense of panic without any strong reason
• an unplanned pregnancy
• being afraid of losing something or someone
• work deadline and pressure at work
• lack of communication with your partner
• unsupportive family
• being irritable many times
• having a hard time to calm down
• pessimist and negative thoughts that don’t go away
Whether this is something that just started or that has been going on in your life for years, women can often feel very lonely while trying to deal with it, and even more when thinking about becoming pregnant, or being pregnant and dealing with a whole new life and changes.
A stress situation can
trigger a cascade of stress hormones that produce a chain of
physiological changes. This well-orchestrated reaction is also
known as stress response or "fight-or-flight" and is a natural
survival mechanism of our body, that we all have and that comes
from the old times, when we were in the wild, enabling us, and
other mammals, to react quickly to life-threatening situations.
For instance, in an incident, it can make your heart pound and
start breathing quicker. Muscles become tenser, beads of sweat
appear, and the substances that can repair your tissues also
increase in the body. This stress response is a great mechanism of
the body because it also triggers the most primitive part of your
brain to help you make quick decisions and take fast action to
fight the threat off or flee to safety.
Unfortunately, the body can also overreact, making it a habit and start acting as if you were on a life-threating situation all the time. Some people think that this reaction is just part of their own personality and they can’t do anything about it, because you see yourself overreacting most of the time in different situations that probably wouldn’t need such a strong reaction from you, but you just don’t know what to do about it. Most of the times these are not immediate life-threatening situations, and circumstances such as work pressure, financial difficulties, family difficulties, and relationships or even just a traffic jam can make you go overboard.
Over the years, researchers have studied how these reactions work together and why they start in the first place, getting insight into the long-term effects of chronic stress on your physical and psychological health. Research suggests that chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, addiction, gastrointestinal problems, problems in sleep and focus, obesity and poor connection between mother and baby.
What is like when stress kicks in?
The stress response begins in your brain. When you are confronted with a stressful situation, being it a legitimate life-threatening situation or not, the eyes or ears (or both) send the information to the amygdala gland, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing. The amygdala interprets the images and sounds and when it perceives danger, it instantly sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus functions as a command center, communicating with the rest of the body through the nervous system so that the person has the energy to fight or flee (see illustration).
This area of the brain communicates with the rest of the body through the autonomic nervous system, which controls many involuntary body functions like breathing, blood pressure, heartbeat, and the dilation or constriction of key blood vessels and small airways in the lungs called bronchioles.
Your autonomic nervous system has two components, the sympathetic nervous system, and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous is the activation system of the body, it triggers the fight-or-flight response, providing the body with a burst of energy so that it can respond as it perceives danger. The parasympathetic nervous system acts like a brake, promoting the return to calmness and rest, to digest the response after the danger has passed.
After the amygdala’s distress signal, the hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system, which then sends signals through the autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands.
The adrenal glands respond by pumping the hormone adrenaline into the bloodstream bringing on a number of physiological changes:
• the heart beats faster than normal
• blood is pushed to the muscles, heart, and other vital organs
• pulse rate and blood pressure go up
• breath starts moving faster and small airways in the lungs open wide
• the lungs take in much more oxygen than normal and extra oxygen is sent to the brain, increasing alertness
• sight, hearing, and other senses become sharper, and you become extra sensitive
• there is also a release of blood sugar (glucose) and fats from temporary storage sites in the body, supplying energy to all parts of the body
These reactions are so natural and quick that you aren't even aware of them. In fact, the wiring is so efficient that the amygdala and hypothalamus start this cascade even before the brain's visual centers have had a chance to fully process what is happening. That's why people are able to jump out of the path of an oncoming car even before they think about what they are doing.
If the brain continues to perceive something as dangerous, the adrenal glands start releasing the cortisol hormone, keeping the body in high alert, and only when the threat passes, cortisol levels fall. The parasympathetic nervous system — the "brake" — then dampens the stress response.
Stress over a long period of time can also affect your baby:
• influencing the metabolism in the placenta
• stress hormones pass through the placenta making the amniotic fluid bitter and baby can drink less because of it
• increase chances of a low-birthweight baby
• increase chances of having a premature baby
• supply of oxygen to the baby can decrease
• increase changes of health problem of your child later in life
Who am I?
Hi! I am Susana, I am a prenatal educator and a yoga teacher. In my daily life, if I am not with my 3 kids, I a serve and give support to the needs of new mothers and their babies. I am the founder of the Stress Free Pregnancy Program to help pregnant women better control the stress of their daily lives and deeply connect with their baby inside.
For me conscious pregnancy, birth and motherhood involve a much deeper connection to yourself, to your body, to your emotions, to the power of your femininity, and a deeper connection and communication with your baby as you surrender to the process of life. I am also the author of the book Yoga and Motherhood (Yoga e Maternidade – released in Portuguese), a member of the APPPAH (Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health) and President of the Norwegian Association of Prenatal Education. I have over fifteen years of experience and have taught hundreds of women worldwide.
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