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What do you think of when I say “stress”?
Many people suffer from various stress responses. In fact, stress is a common physical and mental reaction to tense and harmful emergency situations.
The “fight or flight” response that causes acute stress is part of the body’s nature.
However, if a person lives in a constant stressful state, it can cause negative effects on your health. Chronic stress can take a toll on the body since the human body is only equipped to handle small doses of stress.
Sometimes it’s work that might be getting you stressed out, (in which case you might want to consider changing jobs), however, most of the time it is general life stuff that is much harder to change.
There are many different effects that stress can have on the body, included but not limited to:
- Sleep and Insomnia
- Anxiety and Depression
- Respiratory Issues and Chest Pain
- Blood Pressure problems
- Heart Disease
- Muscle Tension
- Sexual Dysfunction
- Female Reproduction
- Immune System issues
- Acid Reflux
That’s a scarily long list, right?
Well, these are just a few examples of how physical symptoms from long-term stress can really destroy your body if you don’t find any ways to reduce it.
Most people experience some form of stress in their daily life.
Home, school, and work responsibilities may trigger acute stress in adults and children. Painful events in life such as the death of a family member or divorce can cause acute stress.
Stress can also be caused by a traumatic event such as a natural disaster or an attack. Painful or traumatic events can keep a person’s stress levels elevated for a long period of time which can lead to chronic stress.
During a stressful event, the body releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, that increase the heart and respiration rates, and the amount of oxygen sent to the brain.
These physical changes are meant to help the body respond to an emergency.
With acute stress, these changes occur quickly and then the body goes back to its normal state. The body was not made to maintain these elevated states for long periods of time.
Here are some of the physical health and mental effects stress can have on the human body.
Sleep and Insomnia
Sleep is absolutely vital to our proper functioning and without it, we face a raft of debilitating issues.
The “fight or flight” response increases the heart rate and stimulates the central nervous system. The body becomes prepared to handle a situation that may be dangerous or harmful.
In this state, a sufficient sleep state is difficult to achieve.
With acute stress, the central nervous system would eventually tell the body system to go back to normal. However, with chronic stress, the body systems will continue in this elevated state, which would make sleep difficult.
Lack of sleep will compound the problem since it often leads to irrationality and irritability.
Anxiety and Depression
As previously mentioned; stress is created when the body is in a “fight or flight” situation.
If the situation is dangerous; you experience fear.
If this fear is maintained over a period of time, such as the fear you might experience after an attack, then you may become anxious and experience rapid breathing. If you are already an anxious type of person, chronic stress can lead to negative coping behaviors such as drug use, alcoholism, overeating, or social withdrawal.
These behaviors, as well as the stressful situation, can cause a person to be depressed, which may lead to other harmful behaviors.
When in a troubled situation, you will breathe faster or even hyperventilate. The body is trying to get more oxygen to the brain in order to respond to the perceived danger that it thinks you are facing.
If you already have respiratory issues such as asthma or emphysema, you may have difficulty breathing in stressful situations.
In a stressful situation, your heart rate will increase and blood vessels will constrict in order to get more oxygen to the brain. If the heart rate continues to pump fast, this can cause your blood pressure to increase.
If you already have high blood pressure, this can be a dangerous situation.
Since stress makes the human heart work harder, if the stress continues for too long it may cause damage to blood vessels and the heart.
This damage can lead to a stroke or heart attack.
If you are already prone to hypertension or have a heart condition, it’s important to keep your stress levels low.
When the body goes into a “fight or flight” response, the liver increases glucose production for the increased energy needed to escape from danger. Excess glucose is then reabsorbed by the body.
A quick release of glucose for an acute stress event is not dangerous.
However, if the body is in a constant state of stress and glucose levels remain high, a person may be at risk for Type 2 Diabetes.
When you are in a tense state, your muscles tense up in order to protect the body from injury.
Over time, this muscle tension can lead to aches and pains. When you have chronic stress, they may find it difficult to get your muscles to relax and may turn to medication in order to alleviate the pain.
Stress can be sexually arousing, in small doses.
When your body is in “fight or flight” mode, some men find it sexually stimulating because of the temporary increase in testosterone.
However, if the body is in that state constantly, testosterone levels can decrease which can lead to impotence or erectile dysfunction. Low testosterone may also reduce sperm production, which can make it harder to conceive, which leads on to the next point…
Stress can cause a woman’s hormones to fluctuate which can affect her menstrual cycle.
Her periods may become irregular or stop altogether. Stress can also increase pre-menses symptoms such as bloating, irritability, cramping, and mood swings.
During times of chronic stress, a woman will find it harder to conceive.
During a period of acute stress, the body stimulates the immune system, in order to fight infections and heal wounds. The release of cortisol in the body at times of stress can eventually cause issues with the body’s immunity system.
The continued release of cortisol in someone with chronic stress can make you susceptible to viral illnesses, opportunistic diseases, and infections.
There is no way to eliminate stress altogether. Stress is a natural state.
The body is created in a way that allows it to handle stress in small doses. Acute stress is not an issue for most people because the body responds quickly to the problem, then returns to normal.
The problem most people have is chronic stress.
It can be difficult to deal with situations that are traumatic and painful. However, in dealing with these problems and finding healthy coping strategies, a person can eliminate chronic stress and reduce their chances of experiencing the physical and mental effects of stress.
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