Stress is a natural mental reaction to both good and bad experiences. The body responds to stress by releasing hormones and increasing heart rate. We can be physiologically experiencing stress yet mentally numb to it because we have become so tolerant of it. Stress can be triggered by the pressures of everyday life at home, school or work. Some have become so adapted to the pressures, irritations and annoyances of life that it starts to seem normal. These small stressors can accumulate quickly and we may not realize how they impair our emotional and mental well-being until it shows drastic and unwanted diagnosis in clinics.
Although stress is considered one of our survival and coping mechanisms, chronic stress can cause body deterioration in the long run and can affect your overall health and well-being.
Effects of Chronic Stress
Respiratory and Cardiovascular Systems
Stress hormones affect your respiratory and cardiovascular systems. When the body experiences stress, you breathe faster in an effort to distribute oxygen and blood quickly to your body. If you have pre-existing respiratory problems like emphysema or asthma, stress can make breathing difficult.
In stressful situations, the heart tends to pump faster. Stress hormones can cause your blood vessels to constrict and raise your blood pressure. This mechanism helps get oxygen to your brain and heart to have more strength and energy.
Chronic stress makes your heart work too hard for too long. It raises the risk of hypertension and problems with your blood vessels and heart in the long-term. Such condition puts you at a higher risk of suffering stroke, hypertension, or a heart attack.
Chronic stress, or a constant stress experienced over a prolonged period of time, can contribute to problems with the heart and blood vessels. The consistent and ongoing increase in heart rate, and the elevated levels of stress hormones and of blood pressure can take a toll on the body. This long-term ongoing stress can increase the risk for hypertension, heart attack or stroke.
Damages the Circulatory System
Persistent chronic stress can potentially contribute to the inflammation of the coronary arteries in the circulatory system. It also appears that how a person responds to stress can affect cholesterol levels.
Central Nervous and Endocrine Systems
Your central nervous system is responsible for your “fight-or-flight” response. It assesses the causes of the situation and decides what to do. The hypothalamus tells the adrenal glands to then release adrenaline and cortisol as soon as it responds to stress.
When the perceived stress or fear subsides, the central nervous system tells the systems of the body to go back to normal. However, if it fails to normalize, it takes a toll on your body. This causes anxiety, depression, irritability, insomnia, headaches, and detrimental behavior such as overeating, or not eating at all, alcohol and drug abuse, social withdrawal, and imbalance of bodily hormones that cause weakness and eventually weaken the body.
When the body starts to feel stressed, the liver produces glucose, which means extra blood sugar, to give you more energy. This unused blood sugar is then reabsorbed by the body. Suffering chronic stress may not let you be able to keep up with this extra glucose. In the long term, such chronic condition can put you at a high risk of developing type 2 Diabetes.
Acid Reflux and Heartburn
The hormonal surge and imbalance that brings the symptoms of increased heart rate and rapid breathing can upset your digestive system. Stress-reactive people are more likely to have acid reflux or heartburn. Stress may also cause existing ulcers to aggravate. You might experience nausea, vomiting, stomachache, diarrhea and constipation.
Muscles tend to tighten and tense up to protect itself from injury once you are under stress. Being constantly under stress doesn’t allow the muscles the chance to relax. Tight muscles due to stress cause body aches, headaches, back and shoulder pain. Muscle mass deteriorates after prolonged or recurrent stress especially when recovery is minimal.
Sexuality and Reproductive System
Stress can be exhausting and may cause the body and mind to exert more effort. In the short term, men may produce more testosterone during stress but this tends to lower faster as stress persists over time. Lowered level of testosterone is one of the causes of aging and deterioration of muscle mass and masculinity among men.
In the case of women, stress can affect the reproductive and menstrual cycle. Painful periods, irregular or no menstruation can be effects of stress. The unfavorable symptoms of menopause may also be amplified when a woman is constantly under a lot of stress.
Stress stimulates the immune system, helping you fight off infection and heal wounds. However, in the long run, cortisol compromises your immune system and inhibits histamine secretion and inflammatory response to foreign invaders. People who suffer chronic stress tend to be more susceptible to viral illnesses like influenza and the common cold. It increases the risk of diseases and infections and lengthens recovery period.
Affects Skin Elasticity and Speeds up Aging
Due to the several hormonal imbalances that chronic stress causes to the body, it speeds up the aging process making muscles weaker. The fact that stress causes certain functions of our body to over react makes it easier to realize how the body exerts more effort to cope up when it is stressed.
One of the coping mechanisms commonly done by men and women alike when they are stressed is to overeat, drink, and indulge. The hormonal imbalance between the hormones that control hunger and satiety causes the brain to misjudge whether it is hungry or not. As a result, when the body is chronically stressed, overeating usually happens and obesity is a condition that happens likely to people who tend to overindulge. Obesity in itself already has tons of detrimental effects in the body.
A Coping Mechanism
Stress is a normal part of life. It is somehow inevitable to live a life without stress since we are hardwired to be stressed. However, we can stop being victims of our attitudes, hormones, and emotions. Self-control and awareness to hormonal activities can help us cope with stressful situations and assess how we should act in order to reduce risks of deteriorating health. Coping up with stress and calming down have different approaches depending on individual preferences. There are also some scientifically acknowledged solutions that help people rewire their stress response.
The most practical way to manage stress is to deal with it in the moment. Studies show that most Americans stress all day believing that they can wait in the evening for their yoga or gym class to recover. Unfortunately, letting stress wait takes its toll on the body and causes several effects that gradually deteriorate the body and its functions. So once you feel stressed, try breathing in and out slow until you feel your body relax. Being mindful to your brain’s autopilot mechanism might be able to keep you calm, collected and stress-free. And when that happens every time stress strikes, you’ll feel calmer knowing that you won’t have to go through the bad effects of chronic stress over again.∎
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