This has indeed been a stressful time for many of us given the rather sudden and drastic spread of this potentially fatal viral illness. Apart from the anxiety about contracting the disease, job and pay insecurity, adjustments to work arrangements, childcare needs, restricted movement and social isolation all contribute to stress.
But what is ‘stress’?
The American Psychological Association defines ‘stress’ as “the physiological or psychological response to internal or external stressors” – stressors like those mentioned above. In fact, life before the pandemic and pandemic-related measures would also contain stressors, for example, a student studying for an important examination, project deadlines at work, sales targets to hit or an unsatisfactory situation in the home setting.
Both the physical and psychological responses to stress can differ from person to person and how each individual copes with stress could also be very different; some people cope better than others. Exercise, leisure activities, good amounts of sleep, meditation and spending quality time with loved ones are all good examples of good stress coping mechanisms. Turning to alcohol, drugs, ruminating and blaming others are typical poor coping strategies.
I think I am stressed, how can I find out?
If you feel pressured and anxious, you are probably experiencing a certain degree of stress. That is not necessarily a bad thing, studies have shown that a healthy amount of stress helps people to perform at a higher level. Once you have exceeded that level of healthy stress, your performance levels across all aspects deteriorate.
Physical manifestations of stress include short-term insomnia, loss of appetite, an increased heart rate or respiratory rate, unexplained heavy perspiration or a loss in interest in usually enjoyable activities (medically termed anhedonia, Greek for ‘no pleasure’). If these symptoms persist for more than a few weeks, professional help should be sought as a psychiatric diagnosis should be considered and specialist management can be useful.
The chemical signals in your brain are responding to the stress too
Brain chemistry is so complex that modern medicine probably still has some missing chunks of information too. Areas of the brain that control thought, memory and unconscious physical responses are all altered when under stress. Other psychological symptoms can be caused by misfiring of neurons due to irregularities in serotonin, dopamine and acetylcholine as well. Certain hormones are secreted by an area of your brain called the hypothalamus and pituitary gland and further signal your adrenal glands to secrete other hormones like noradrenaline and cortisol, the classical ‘stress hormone’.
Cortisol levels are lowest in the early morning, after you have had a good night’s sleep; if your sleep has been disrupted, or insufficient, you can expect your cortisol levels to be higher. These disruptions to your brain circuitry, chemistry and hormones are part of the reason for the psychological and physical symptoms you may experience.
Stress Is a Pro-Inflammatory State!
With cortisol levels higher than usual, your immune system starts to react abhorrently. Cortisol is one of the hormones that normally regulates your body’s immune system which causes ‘necessary inflammation’ at sites of injury or damage. However, prolonged high levels of cortisol weaken that immune response, and instead, causes ‘unnecessary microinflammation’ (inflammation that is occurring at the biochemical level and invisible to the naked eye) to occur in otherwise normal cells.
In light of the recent Covid-19 infectious disease pandemic, it would be in your interest to have a well-functioning immune system and one of the things you should be doing is to keep your cortisol levels low, or at least, prevent stress from affecting your immune system negatively
In the long term, this abnormal microinflammation also can cause blood vessels, kidney and HAIR FOLLICLE damage.
What is a Stress Adaptogen?
An adaptogen was traditionally used in herbal medicine to promote homeostasis – a return to normal functioning. In recent decades, molecular biology techniques have identified various pathways in which these herbs play a role in reducing the effects of stress on our bodies. Since then, there has been widespread use of stress adaptogens as supplements to regulate our brain and body’s response to stress.
One example of a stress adaptogen that has been used for centuries is ginseng. Modern science has found ways to purify and extract the adaptogen molecules in naturally occurring plants for ease of consumption.
The main stress adaptogens found in all natural, commercially available products now typically include Ashwagandha root, cayenne pepper, rhodiola, turmeric extract and reishi (Lingzhi) mushrooms and some others.
Stress and the Hair Follicle
It has long been known that stress can affect the proper growth cycle of hair follicles. An acute physical or emotional stressor such as severe weight loss, major surgery or a bad relationship breakup can cause hair shedding, a condition called telogen effluvium.
Chronic stress and the micro-inflammatory response to chronic stress may have a role in causing hair thinning through a mechanism that damages the hair follicle through a process called follicular miniaturization.
As such, the ‘old wives’ tale’ of stress as the cause of hair loss may not be too far from the truth. No doubt, when it comes to hair loss, the intricate medical understanding of human hair biology is required to make an accurate diagnosis and formulate a treatment plan.
How can I ‘de-stress’ my hair?
An award-winning nutraceutical – Nutrafol – has gone through rigorous clinical testing to show its benefit on hair growth, not only by blunting the stress response on hair follicles, but also by supplying much desired nutrients for hair growth. Hair follicles do not only suffer from the effects of stress, but also the effects of oxidative stress (bleach), poor nutrition (high sugar, highly processed foods) and other medical conditions.
Therefore, the stress adaptogens in Nutrafol will not only aim to de-stress your hair follicles, but also aim to modulate stress responses on other parts of your body. Users report decreased fatigue, improved concentration and better general well-being.
Is this a panacea for stress?
There is NO cure for stress, we face stress all the time and, as mentioned, benefit from some amounts of stress in our lives. You should not aim to eliminate stress altogether but rather, prevent the stress of life from affecting you negatively through lifestyle modifications, better time management, enjoying healthy relationships, focusing on self-care and if the situation calls for it, consider using a stress adaptogen.
The statements in this article are not to be used for making a medical diagnosis or recommending therapy. If you are experiencing levels of stress that you find difficulty coping with, consult with a professional.