Oh, to be stressed out! That feeling of pressure, the rushed breathing, the racing heart. The feeling of desperation setting into your brain and body. Nobody likes it…..but we all, at times, experience it.
Stress can be so hard to handle. And let’s face it, some of us are better at it than others. But the reality is, it isn’t good for any of us. Ongoing stress can result in many serious health concerns that can result in depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and stroke. Even nervous system issues, muscle tension, sleep disturbances and digestive issues.
Your central nervous system is in charge of your “fight or flight” response. In your brain, the hypothalamus gets the ball rolling, telling your adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones get your heart rate revved up, sending blood rushing to the areas that need it most in an emergency, such as your muscles, heart, and other important organs. When the perceived fear is gone, the hypothalamus should tell all systems to go back to normal. If the nervous system fails to return to normal, or if the stressor doesn’t go away, the response will continue. Chronic stress is a factor in behaviors such as overeating or not eating enough, alcohol or drug abuse, and social withdrawal.
Stress hormones affect your respiratory and cardiovascular systems. During the stress response, you breathe faster in an effort to quickly distribute oxygen-rich blood to your body. If you already have a breathing problem like asthma or emphysema, stress can make it even harder to breathe. Under stress, your heart also pumps faster. Stress hormones cause your blood vessels to constrict and divert more oxygen to your muscles so you’ll have more strength to take action. But this also raises your blood pressure. As a result, frequent or chronic stress will make your heart work too hard for too long. When your blood pressure rises, so do your risks for having a stroke or heart attack.
Have you heard that your gut is your second brain? Some people will get that “gut feeling” when stresses rise. This can result in the way food moves through your body, leading to diarrhea or constipation. You might also experience nausea, vomiting, or a stomach ache. Under stress, your liver produces extra blood sugar (glucose) to give you a boost of energy. If you’re under chronic stress, your body may not be able to keep up with this extra glucose surge. Chronic stress may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The rush of hormones, rapid breathing, and increased heart rate can also increase feelings of heartburn or acid reflux thanks to an increase in stomach acid. Stress can increase your risk of ulcers, causing them to act up.
Your muscles tense up to protect themselves from injury when you’re stressed. They tend to release again once you relax, but if you’re constantly under stress, your muscles may not get the chance to relax. Tight muscles cause headaches, back and shoulder pain, and body aches. Over time, this can set off an unhealthy cycle as you stop exercising and turn to pain medication for relief.
Stress stimulates the immune system, which can be a plus for immediate situations. This stimulation can help you avoid infections and heal wounds. But over time, stress hormones will weaken your immune system and reduce your body’s response to foreign invaders. People under chronic stress are more susceptible to viral illnesses like the flu and the common cold, as well as other infections. Stress can also increase the time it takes you to recover from an illness or injury.