Just the mere mention of the word can cause most people to tense up, thinking of all the things they’ve got on their to-do lists at home and work. Stress can come disguised in many different wrappings – sometimes it’s planning a wedding, deciding on a college, the birth of a new baby, moving to a new home, getting separated or divorced. Perhaps you know someone who lost their job, is struggling with an illness, or lost a loved one. These are just a few of the top ten most stressful events in life, and that list doesn’t include the daily stressors we all face such as traffic, work deadlines, family dynamics and financial concerns.
Most of us are aware that stress affects our bodies, but do you know the extent of the damage stress can cause?
Stress can lead to problems with digestion, obesity, sleep disorders, depression, heart disease, skin conditions and pain. Long-term exposure to stress can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, and speed up the aging process. Long-term stress can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.
The body doesn’t distinguish between physical and psychological threats. When you’re stressed over a busy schedule, an argument with a friend, a traffic jam, or a mountain of bills, your body reacts just as strongly as if you were facing a life-or-death situation. If you have a lot of responsibilities and worries, your emergency stress response may be “on” most of the time. The more your body’s stress system is activated, the easier it is to trigger it and the harder it is to shut it off.
There are three types of stress; chemical, physical and emotional. Chemical stress can come from cigarette smoke, alcohol or drugs. But it can also be caused by prescription medications, food additives, pollution in the air, or exposure to toxic substances. Physical stress can come from an injury on the job, a car accident, or a sports injury. Physical stress can also be caused by sleeping on a worn out mattress, slouching at your desk or poor posture. Emotional stress can come from co-workers, trying to meet deadlines or juggling a tight schedule. But it can also come from worrying about your loved ones, arguing with your spouse, or fretting over finances. Your body is programmed to react to stress with the “fight or flight” response, and you may not necessarily distinguish between the types of stress when you are reacting. So while this response is beneficial if you were ever attacked by a neighbor’s dog, it may not be in your best interest if you are repeatedly bombarded by irate customers.
When the nervous system receives signals of stress, messages are sent to the brain, which then signals the hypothalamus to secrete hormones that stimulate the pituitary gland. The pituitary sends signals to all of the other endocrinal glands with the ultimate result being a release of adrenaline. Adrenaline is the “fight or flight” hormone; it’s what makes a mom capable of lifting an enormous weight off of her baby, sharpens your hearing when you are walking through a dark parking lot and allows an athlete to continue playing even after being injured, only to realize later how severe the injury is.
Adrenaline causes specific organs to kick into high gear, such as the heart, lungs and skeletal muscles. Think back to the days of the cavemen and what they may have experienced; when they came upon a wild animal, the caveman had to decide if he should try to kill the animal to feed his family or run to save his life. In either scenario, the heart, lungs and skeletal muscles must be working in high gear. We still possess this “fight or flight” response even though most of us aren’t exposed to those same stressors. So when adrenaline is released into our system, and our organs kick into high gear, but we don’t physically react by running, jumping, kicking, or fighting, what happens to the adrenaline and the organs that have been supercharged by it? In simple terms – damage. Stressing out over paying bills causes adrenaline to be released, which revs up your heart. But if you just continue sitting at your desk upset, and don’t effectively use up that adrenaline, the constant production of the stress hormones can have serious effects on the body.
It’s important to understand that stress is the trigger, and not necessarily the cause of the problems listed above. Whether or not you become sick from stress depends on your ability to manage your stress levels. Here are the most effective and most recommended methods for managing stress:
- Daily Exercise
- Proper Nutrition
- Adequate Sleep
- Positive Mental Attitude
- Network of Friends
Need one more reason why it’s important to find ways to minimize the effects of stress on your body?
When you are in the “fight or flight” state, your body shuts down your “rest and digest” systems. Can’t sleep, can’t heal, can’t utilize your body’s fuel effectively and cannot eliminate waste products before they begin to fester. And that is truly a recipe for disaster for any body.
We are here to help you and your loved ones explore new methods of managing stress to help create a healthier tomorrow.