The old adage of stress is a killer is truer than you may realize. To better understand what stress does to your body, let’s first take a look at stress. The Mayo Clinic defines stress as the natural alarm system to your body’s “flight or fight” reaction.
Stress is hardwired into your body and is as a way of alerting you of possible forthcoming danger. In the time of early man, stress was meant to protect against possible threats from predators. Today, our body still experiences stress, but for the most part the causes are different.
Fighting off dinosaurs was probably a great way to get rid of stress, but today we thankfully don’t have that option.
While it may be a good thing that we don’t have to fight for our life daily, the drawback sometimes results in accumulated stress for some people.
What is stress?
During a stressful situation, your body sounds off an alarm system in the small region of your brain, known as the hypothalamus.
Once activated, it sends a message to your adrenal glands to release hormones. These hormones include cortisol and adrenaline.
Cortisol affects certain body functions that may cause problems in a survival situation. It can change your immune system and slow down the digestive and reproductive systems. Cortisol is the main stress hormone that is responsible for increasing glucose in your blood stream.
Adrenaline can supercharge your energy supplies. It also speeds up your heart rate and can increase your blood pressure. After your body responds to a stressful event, your system should naturally calm down. Cortisol and adrenaline levels drop and your body should go back to its normal mode of operation.
Causes of Stress
Some level of stress is an unavoidable part of life; however, it becomes a problem for people when it is always present. The long-term activation of hormones associated with stress can be problematic for your overall health. People often respond to stress variety of ways.
Stress can be short-term or long-term. People also perceive stressful events in different ways. There are many factors that can cause daily stress. The most common events include:
- Death of a loved one
- Loss of a job
- Financial worries
- Legal troubles
- Employment problems
This is just a sample of potential stressful events. Sometimes, even joyful events, such as marriage or graduation, can cause stress.
Signs of Stress
Just as there are many causes of stress, there are also a variety of signs to look out for if you think stress may be a problem for you, or a loved one. Some common signs include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling of uneasiness
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of confidence
- Unable to control emotions
- Tightness in the chest
Health Conditions Caused by Stress
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 75% of medical problems that are seen by doctors on any given day are somehow related to stress. As our culture evolves into a quick pace and competitive environment, this statistic is likely to grow. Here are just a few health problems that are associated with stress:
- Type II diabetes
- Skin conditions such as eczema, acne, and psoriasis
- Heart disease
- Digestive problems
- Mental disorders
- Menstrual problems
- Worsening of ulcers
- Back and muscle pain
As you can see, the list is fairly extensive, and this is just a quick sample. Perhaps one of the clearest examples of a health condition associated with stress is heart disease. According to the American Institute of Stress, heart attacks significantly increase after episodes of acute stress.
Additionally, chronic stress from long-term anger or other mental conditions also increases the risk of coronary heart disease.
Strategies for Coping with Stress
How you react to stress can make a dramatic difference on how it affects your help. The following tips will help you deal with stress:
Get Enough Sleep
During sleep, your body gets a chance to recharge. Lack of sleep can be the root of many health issues to include stress. Research indicates that most people need between seven and eight hours of sleep.
When you find yourself starting to feel uptight, take the time to focus on your breathing. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth in a slow methodical manner. Breathing this way will help your muscles to relax.
When you practice meditation frequently, you will learn how to better control your thoughts and your body. Meditation requires you to focus. When you focus on a particular object or pleasant thought, you would naturally take your mind off stress. Just a few minutes of practice a day can help alleviate stress.
A poor diet can contribute to stress. Excess nervous energy obtained from foods high in sugar and too much caffeine can cause a quick rush of energy; however, the feeling is temporary and the crash after can be physically and emotionally draining.
Physical activity will actually help to relax tense muscles by supplying oxygen to them. Exercise will also release endorphins that will help you clear your mind of stress and improve your mood.