Strange things stress can do to your body
“I AM STRESSED!” – How many times in a day or a week you feel this emotion? Or, how often you hear others say that they are too stressed?
Well, stress has become a part of our lives. It makes us feel the pressure of work at the office and gives us the irritable feeling of getting stuck in the traffic. Stress is also something which keeps you on your toes to study for exams when you’d rather be watching TV! But when the going gets too tough and life's demands exceed your ability to cope, stress becomes a threat to both your physical and emotional well-being.
You feel the ‘emotion’ throughout your body – your heart beats faster, your palms get sweaty, your mouth gets dry, and you feel the nervous tension in your muscles. These are just a few examples of fight-or-flight response (or acute stress response) by your body in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival.
Chronic stress can do more damage to your body. It can wear you down day after day and year after year, with no visible escape. Under sustained or severe stress such as loss of a loved one or filing for a divorce, even the well-adjusted person loses the ability to adapt.
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Recent research suggests that anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of illnesses are stress-related.
The physical wear and tear of stress includes damage to these systems of your body:
- Nervous System
When you’re stressed - physically or psychologically – your body suddenly shifts its energy resources to fight off the perceived threat, which is known as fight or flight response. Your nervous system signals the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol hormones – that makes your heart beat faster, raise blood pressure, change the digestive process and boost glucose levels in the bloodstream.
- Musculoskeletal System
Under stress, your muscles tense up. The contraction of muscles for extended periods can trigger tension headaches, migraines, and various musculoskeletal conditions.
- Respiratory System
Stress can make you breathe harder and cause rapid breathing or hyperventilation (breathing faster due to anxiety), which can bring on panic attacks in some people.
- Cardiovascular System
Acute stress (stress that is momentary) such as getting stuck in traffic increases heart rate and makes the heart work harder. Blood vessels expand to increase blood supply to the heart and large muscles. Arteries that supply blood to the heart can become inflamed when acute stress happens too often. This may lead to a heart attack.
- Endocrine System
When your body is stressed, your brain sends signals from the hypothalamus, causing the adrenal glands to release stress hormones – cortisol and epinephrine. When these stress hormones are released, the liver produces more glucose that would give you the energy to deal with a true fight or flight emergency.
- Gastrointestinal System
Stress can cause you to eat more or less than usual. Eating more or eating different foods, or increased use of tobacco or alcohol can cause heartburn or acid reflux. Stress can affect your stomach and cause “butterflies,” nausea, or pain. Severe stress can even cause vomiting. Stress can affect digestion and cause diarrhea or constipation. Stress can affect nutrient absorption by the intestines and affect how quickly food moves through the digestive tract.
- Reproductive System
For women, stress can cause menstrual cycles to be irregular or stop. It can also cause periods to be more painful and reduce sexual desire. For men, excess cortisol produced while under stress can affect the normal functioning of the reproductive system. Chronic stress can impair testosterone and sperm production and cause impotence.
We all experience stress often. What matters most is how you handle it. The best thing you can do to manage your stress is to find out the root cause and have a few stress relievers in hand to restore your inner peace and health. Few things which can help bring down your stress levels are breathing exercise, regular physical activity, stepping away from your phone and giving time to your hobbies, listening to music, and spending time with friends and family.