Stress is part of our everyday life, that is an undeniable fact. You may be stressed out running late for that important meeting, a new baby, stuck for long periods in traffic, loss of a job, or even waiting hours to see a doctor.
When your body is stressed, the brain sends out an alert to the hypothalamus, a tiny organ which has many crucial functions such as:
- regulating body temperature
- regulating emotional responses
- releasing hormones
- controlling appetite
- maintaining physiological cycles
- managing sexual behaviour
Upon receiving the alert, the hypothalamus despatches the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, that trigger the “fight or flight” response. These hormones act to protect your body in an emergency situation, i.e., your heart rate and breathing increases and your muscles are placed on alert to respond if necessary.
Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to life, and can be beneficial to your health in short-term situations. When the stress is over, the hypothalamus should instruct all the body systems to revert to normal.
Your health becomes at risk when the stress response keeps firing continuously, as constant stressful situations can take a toll on your well-being and turns into chronic stress.
Signs of chronic stress include:
- difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
Chronic stress plays a role in behavioural patterns such as over or undereating, social withdrawal and alcohol or substance abuse.
Chronic stress is also linked to the following medical issues:
Respiratory and cardiovascular issues
As mentioned earlier, during a stressful situation your breathing and heart rate rise. If you already have a medical problem like asthma or emphysema, a stressful situation makes it even harder to breathe.
And since your breathing increases under stress, your heart is forced to work harder. Cortisol and adrenaline cause your blood vessels to constrict and direct more oxygen-rich blood to your muscles, but this action also increases your blood pressure.
Frequent stress or chronic stress will over-work your heart for long periods of time. As a result, the increased blood pressure raises your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
When your muscles get active, your liver has to produce extra blood sugar (glucose) for that extra boost of energy. Long periods of chronic stress may leave your body unable to cope with extra glucose surges, and the extra sugar in the blood which is not used up may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The continuous rush of cortisol and adrenaline combined with the increased breathing and heart rate, can irritate your digestive system. This leads to an increase in stomach acid, which will likely cause you to suffer from heartburn or acid reflux. Although stress is not the cause of stomach ulcers, it can increase your risk for them and even cause existing ulcers to act up.
Stress and chronic stress also directly affect your digestion, which could lead to either diarrhoea or constipation, stomach aches, nausea or vomiting.
Your muscles tense up when put on alert and relax when the stressful moment passes. With constant stress, the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline will be continuously sent to your muscles, and they will not get the opportunity to relax. Your muscles will become tight, which leads to a host of other problems like body aches, headaches, and pain normally in the back and shoulders.
This unhealthy situation will normally make you stop exercising and go on painkillers for relief which may lead to possible addiction over time.
Short-term stress in men has shown to increase more testosterone, but this is a temporary effect. In fact, with constant stress, men’s testosterone levels drop leading to other problems like loss of desire, sperm production, ED or impotence.
Constant or chronic stress in women normally affects their menstrual cycle, and can sometimes heighten symptoms of menopause.
Your immune system
Stressful conditions also put the immune system on high alert. This is good whereby infections can be avoided, and wounds heal faster. But too much cortisol and adrenaline actually weaken the immune system, leaving your body more open to infections and increase recovery time from illness or injury.
Bottom line – stress is a burst of energy that gives you the fight-or-flight option to meet your daily challenges and improves memory. It can also motivate you to reach your goals.
However, constant stress or chronic stress have opposite results. How you manage home and work lifestyle can determine if you are able to find a healthy balance in life and reduce stress levels. Tomorrow’s article will focus on some stress-relieving options that readers can try out.
The purpose of this article is to provide general information on how stress affects our health, and is in no way to be taken as medical advice. Readers are advised to consult a doctor for proper medical information on stress related issues, especially if they have current medical issues.
3rd August 19:30 2020