We are all born into the world with a certain size “bucket” of tolerance for stress, any stress. Our genetic capacity for stress (the size of the bucket) is developed at conception and shaped throughout life, half from mom, half from dad. Before birth, our adrenals get an idea of how stressful the outside world is through a shared circulation between mom and baby. This means that some of us may be born with a bucket already half full.
We only have one bucket to hold all kinds of stress; there is no separation of various stressors from one another, physical, mental, or emotional. Whether it be an injury, a chemical toxin, an annoying text message from your brother, the death of a loved one, or fear of debt, all stressors go into the same bucket (although some may take up more room in the bucket than others).
By design, this bucket was meant for extreme, acute stressors, such as a plague, famine, or being pursued by a predator. If a tiger were to lunge at you, your bucket would immediately and completely fill with “stress.” If you lived through this experience with the tiger, your bucket would empty again and be ready for the next acute stressor.
The problem with living in our present society is we now use our stress response bucket quite differently from its designed purpose. Chronic, low-level stress comprises our world. Most of us, thankfully, no longer fear for our safety from predators, worry about starvation, or deal with deadly plagues. However, we do fill our bucket with multiple chronic, perpetual stressors.
The list of chronic stressors is long and ever-changing, and you likely know your list better than I do. We are bombarded by so much constant stress these days that our minds have acclimated to it, as you would adjust to feeling a watch on your wrist after only a few minutes of wearing it.
Relatively minor, chronic stressors begin to fill up the “bucket” of your capacity for stress little by little. You remain in the stress response too often. Your body compensates, but when it compensates for too long, it over-activates the organs of stress (causing wear and tear) and shuts down the organs of relaxation (healing and repair). All of those stressors take up space in our bucket and potentially compromise our ability to handle the next big stressor that comes our way. Our bucket holds everything…until it can’t!
Once the chronic stress becomes a long-term problem, it’s not a simple matter of removing only the last big stressor or even the ongoing chronic stressors. After the body has been under assault for long enough, all its systems have been engaged in this process, which is why the symptoms are body-wide. This is “Adrenal Dysfunction,” or what I refer to as a stress response system dysfunction. The body requires effective, targeted treatment to get the whole system functioning normally again.