By now the link between stress and some diseases has been well documented. However, not all stress is bad and you do not get ill overnight from the stress you are experiencing.
Some kinds of stress can be very useful. For example, you have a job interview. There is a certain amount of stress associated with it but it mobilises you to think quickly and clearly and give appropriate responses to the questions. Or, if you are an athlete and you are running a race, your stress response enables you to mobilise all the systems in your body for the best performance. In these cases stress is temporary and it lasts no more than a few hours. Once the stress is over, all the body systems can recover and your hormones return to their base levels.
The problem begins when you are experiencing chronic stress. Some people report that they can never relax. Even if they are sitting doing nothing, they fell tension in their body around the stomach area.
In a stress situation your body produces so called stress hormones, mainly adrenaline and cortisol. These stress hormones influence a number of the systems in your body. Do you suffer from frequent headaches? In response to adrenalin, muscles contract and over time this causes tension, which you then experience as headaches.
No sex drive or difficulty conceiving? This can also be a result of stress. In ancient times our stress response was mainly due to danger to life and health. When you were running away from a dangerous animal, it didn't matter whether you could reproduce. What mattered was saving your life. Therefore, the stress hormones shut down the reproductive system. We still have the same response today even though we are no longer running away from a hungry animal. Moreover, the stressors of today can last for days and months, which throw the reproductive system out of balance.
These are just a couple of examples of how stress can affect your health. More in the next episode of this blog.
Stress and the body Part 2
In the previous part we looked at how stress causes headaches and affects our reproductive system. It must be pointed out, though, that stress affects our bodies in more ways. So, here we continue with identifying what is happening in our bodies when we are feeling stressed.
Do you get stressed with sitting in traffic, deadlines at work, other people's decisions at work that affect you, incompetence of your employees? Each such episode causes blood to be pumped faster. The main function of stress it tom mobilise the body for the fight or flight response. The blood is pumped faster in expectation of intensive physical activity. This affects the condition of your blood vessels as they have to deal with more intense flow of the blood through them. Over time it may lead to inflammations in the cardiovascular system and may also lead to cardiovascular diseases.
Another consequence of stress is weight loss or gain. Have you asked yourself why it is that some people gain weight under stress while some people lose weight? Stress can affect digestion and it may have different results for different people. On the one hand, stress may result in decreased ability to digest and absorb nutrients. Very intense stress may prevent the feeling of hunger or even cause vomiting. You completely lose appetite and as a result, you lose weight. This usually happens when the stress we experience is continuous for a long period of time. On the other hand, stress hormone cortisol causes more of the feeling of hunger to replenish the energy resources that you were supposed to use while running for your life. But since we spend most of our days sitting at our desks, rather than hunting, the result is we gradually put on more pounds. This is more common when you experience frequent intermittent stress episodes.
The digestive system is also affected due to the stomach action and secretion of stomach acid in response to stress. Stomachaches and ulcers are not unknown to people who suffer from stress for extended periods of time.
These are just a few examples of a very complex process that happens in our bodies in response to stress. Stress may adversely affect your immune system, skeletal system and even your muscular system.
Obviously, I would like to tell you to stop stressing and to start relaxing but I know that it is easier said than done. Naturally, we will need to continue to answer the question: So what can we do?