The Effects of Stress, and How Stress Affects You
1. Fight-or-Flight hormones are released.
In what is known as fight-or-flight response, the sympathetic nervous system signals the adrenal glands to release stress hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine to help you cope with the threat at hand. These hormones signal the liver to produce more glucose (blood sugar), giving you quick access to energy to move and think quickly (which can in some situations save your life). However, when you undergo frequent bouts or chronic and unabating stress, these hormones can cause problems with your health.
2. Your muscles tense up.
When stress does not abate but continues for extended periods, involuntary muscle contractions can trigger tension headaches, migraines and various musculoskeletal conditions. Left untreated, you can experience aches, pain, and stiffness, in your neck, back—anywhere your body holds stress.
3. You breathe harder and faster.
The respiratory system responds to stress by speeding up to get more oxygen in, which can cause hyperventilation and induce panic attacks in some people.
4. Your heart rate skyrockets.
Acute stress, whether it’s traffic, deadlines, or a fight with your spouse, causes your circulatory system to ramp up your heart rate and causes stronger contractions of the heart muscle. Repeated episodes of stress or chronic, ongoing stress can cause inflammation in the coronary arteries, putting you at greater risk of a heart attack.
5. Digestive functioning takes a nosedive.
When you’re stressed, your body gets a kind of tunnel vision: The goal is to get you out of whatever sticky situation you’re in, and that means getting blood to where you need it most (heart, lungs, and outer extremities being foremost among them). Proper digestive functioning, therefore, can be temporarily suspended. Once the moment of stress passes, things return to normal…but if they don’t (because of frequent or chronic stress), you can experience problems such as heartburn, acid reflux, nausea, diarrhea, or constipation. Because stress affects how your intestines absorb nutrients, chronic or frequent intense bouts of stress can compromise your overall health.
6. Sexual health suffers.
As with the digestive system, the reproductive system also gets put on the back burner when stress hits—and when this goes on too long, it can zap sexual desire. In addition, for women, it can cause irregular menstrual cycles or more painful periods. For men, high levels of cortisol can impair testosterone, sperm production and cause impotence.
7. Your defenses go down.
In an effort to fight off stress, the body also suppresses the immune system functioning, since, as with reproduction and digestion, it’s nonessential at a moment of acute stress. And you can guess that if your immune defenses are put on hold for too long, you’re far more vulnerable to infections of all stripes—and far more likely to get sick.
Stress makes it not only harder to function day to day, but it makes it more difficult for you to create the very changes that would relieve stress. Reason being, stress can keep you trapped in those behaviors, creating a damaging and vicious cycle. The more stressed you are, the worse you feel, and the worse you feel, the more stress takes hold.
Study after study have found that moderate to highly stressed people are 30% less likely to eat a healthier diet, 25% less likely to exercise, two times as likely to fail at losing weight, and sleep only half as well as people reporting low levels of stress.
Being unable to make these suggested changes actually then causes us more stress and we tend to cope with it in unhealthy ways.
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Chronic stress affects the body negatively over a long period.
“When people are under chronic stress, they tend to smoke, drink, use drugs and overeat to help cope. These behaviors trigger a biological cascade that helps prevent depression, but they also contribute to a host of physical problems that eventually contribute to early death…”
- Rick Nauert, PhD for National Institute of Mental Health, 5/2010
If you have tried to make changes and failed repeated you are not alone:
- 1 out of 3 people say they do not have the willpower to make these changes
- 1 out of 5 say they don’t have time to think about these recommendations
- 1 out of 7 say they lack the confidence to stick with changes they make
- And if you are stressed, your likelihood for successful change are further worsened by another 10 -14%!!!
According to the APA study, people tried to alleviate stress in the following ways:
- 43% ate too much
- 47% pursued sedentary activities such as watching television
- 41% surfed the internet or played video games