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The fact that we can stress ourselves out by doing too much of what we enjoy over too long a period of time makes recognising stress a problem for some people. Recognition of stress can be further complicated by certain physiological processes that take place in a stressed brain. When we’re under significant stress the brain releases chemicals called beta endorphins. Beta endorphins belong to the opiate group of chemicals (the literal English translation of the Greek endorphin is the ‘opium within’) and are five times more potent than opium or heroin in producing euphoria and reducing pain. (The Oxford Dictionary defines euphoria&s ‘a feeling of well-being, especially one based on over-confidence and over-optimism.’)

The high that long distance runners and other competitive athletes experience when they break through the pain barrier and receive their second wind is the result of endorphins. Many women have their first endorphin experience while giving birth.

Athletes and child-bearing women aside, the hard-charging, over-achiever type is the one most likely to experience a beta endorphin high and is therefore in danger of getting hooked on a stressful lifestyle. The painkilling and euphoria-producing effects of beta endorphins can so successfully mask the symptoms of stress that one is not aware one’s adrenal glands are getting tired until one ceases the given activity and the levels of beta endorphin drop. It’s at this point that the typical symptoms of adrenal fatigue manifest. Tiredness, irritability, drowsiness, loss of confidence and eventually depression are typical symptoms of adrenal fatigue.

As a group, hard-chargers don’t recognise these symptoms as a need to rest. Instead they reason that if working, exercising and socialising makes them feel good and slowing down makes them feel tired then the former is what their body needs. Non-hard-chargers reason that their bodies need rest until symptoms such as tiredness and depression go. Hard-chargers force themselves on until their adrenal glands fatigue to the point of incompetence and their bodies become racked with the symptoms of disease. Non-hard-chargers have learnt to pace themselves and enjoy good health. While hard-chargers are relying more and more on a chemical (beta endorphin) high for feelings of well-being, non-hard-chargers enjoy the natural high of normal good health.

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