How stress affects your health
We all know what stress feels like, and to some degree it is an important mechanism to respond to external circumstances or threats. The human body is designed to experience stress in order to react to situations that require our attention. There is such a thing as positive stress, also known as ‘eustress’. This kind of stress is the type that is necessary to be able to respond to situations like having to be interviewed for a new job or having to give a presentation. It makes you more alert and focused. However, the kind of stress we should worry about is the negative kind and the one that becomes persistent. This is known as ‘distress’, and this is the one that is harmful to your health, especially if it becomes chronic.
What happens in your body when you become stressed?
The nervous system reacts to an external trigger and causes an adrenaline release, meanwhile, the hypothalamus produces corticotropin-releasing hormone, initiating a sequence that finishes with the production of the stress hormone cortisol.
These hormones (cortisol, adrenaline and other chemicals) act as chemical messengers that enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body.
The hormones bind to almost every cell in the body, as mostly all of them contain protein receptor known as glucocorticoid receptors that allow the hormones to fit into the cells like a key to a lock.
The increase in cortisol and adrenaline distributed throughout the body causes physical responses in the body. Cortisol increases blood sugar levels whilst adrenaline causes the heart to beat faster, distributing more oxygen around the body.
This process that happens in the body when it responds to a stressor is manageable and not harmful to your health if it doesn’t happen frequently and if it’s eustress, rather than distress. This is also known as acute stress, as it happens in short periods. However, when stress becomes chronic, this is when your health suffers. If you’re body is activating the stress response constantly, the body and the brain doesn’t have enough time to reset the hormones and inflammatory chemicals to normal levels, damaging the immune system, making you more likely to get sick.
What effects can stress have on our health?
- Weakened immune system
- Unhealthy food cravings: the increase in cortisol levels causes blood sugar levels to rise and therefore create cravings for sugar and fat.
- Increase fat storage in the body: your body stores fat and enlarges the size of fat cells, causing you to gain weight which can lead to obesity, have high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
- Sleep problems
- Causes blood sugar levels to spike
- Can affect your digestion be either causing you to become constipated or have diarrhea.
- Premature aging
- Hair loss
- Mood swings
- Lack of energy
Taking into account that stress affects our health and wellbeing, it’s important to find a way to manage stress in our day-to-day life, to avoid it from becoming detrimental to our health.
Don’t let every potentially stressful situation make you stressed. It’s about learning to differentiate what really is worth getting worked up about and what isn’t. When you make this into a practice, you will avoid getting stressed easily and even when you encounter stressful situations, you’ll be able to manage them more calmly.
If you’re someone who stresses out easily, avoid drinking caffeinated drinks like coffee and coca-cola as these will trigger the symptoms. You should also practice mindfulness or meditation to help control stress symptoms. Practicing yoga and other sports can also help.
Don’t let stress take center stage in your life. Your mental and physical health will appreciate it!