How different types of stress affect our health
Our bodies are well equipped to handle stress in small doses, but when that stress becomes long-term or chronic, it can have serious effects on your body.
The human nervous system releases hormones that give us a sort of boost called fight or flight response. It accelerates heartbeat and breathing, tenses muscles and increases sweating. This reaction is meant to be temporary and in normal conditions the body recovers from it quickly. With sudden onset stress, the muscles tense up all at once, and then release their tension when the stress passes. Chronic stress causes the muscles in the body to be in a more or less constant state of guardedness. When muscles are taut and tense for long periods of time, this may trigger other reactions of the body and even promote stress-related disorders.
For example, both tension-type headache and migraine headache are associated with chronic muscle tension in the area of the shoulders, neck and head. Musculoskeletal pain in the low back and upper extremities has also been linked to stress, especially job stress.
Relaxation techniques like yoga and deep breathing as well as other stress-relieving activities and therapies have been shown to effectively reduce muscle tension, decrease the incidence of certain stress-related disorders, such as headache, and increase a sense of well-being. For those who develop chronic pain conditions, stress-relieving activities have been shown to improve mood and daily function.
Stress and strong emotions can present with respiratory symptoms, such as shortness of breath and rapid breathing, as the airway between the nose and the lungs constricts. For people without respiratory disease, this is generally not a problem as the body can manage the additional work to breathe comfortably, but psychological stressors can exacerbate breathing problems for people with pre-existing respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Some studies show that an acute stress—such as the death of a loved one—can actually trigger asthma attacks. In addition, the rapid breathing—or hyperventilation—caused by stress can bring on a panic attack in someone prone to panic attacks.
Working with a Coach to develop relaxation, breathing, and other cognitive behavioral strategies can help massively.
Stress that is momentary or short-term such as meeting deadlines, being stuck in traffic or suddenly slamming on the brakes to avoid an accident—causes an increase in heart rate and stronger contractions of the heart muscle, with the stress hormones—adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol—acting as messengers for these effects. In addition, the blood vessels that direct blood to the large muscles and the heart dilate, thereby increasing the amount of blood pumped to these parts of the body and elevating blood pressure. This is also known as the fight or flight response. Once the acute stress episode has passed, the body returns to its normal state.
Constant stress experienced over a prolonged period of time, can contribute to long-term problems for heart and blood vessels. The consistent and ongoing increase in heart rate, and the elevated levels of stress hormones and of blood pressure, can take a toll on the body. This long-term ongoing stress can increase the risk for hypertension, heart attack, or even stroke.
When someone perceives a situation to be challenging, threatening, or uncontrollable, the brain initiates a cascade of events involving the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is the primary driver of the endocrine stress response. This ultimately results in an increase in the production of steroid hormones called glucocorticoids, which include cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone”.
During times of stress, the hypothalamus, a collection of nuclei that connects the brain and the endocrine system, signals the pituitary gland to produce a hormone, which in turn signals the adrenal glands, located above the kidneys, to increase the production of cortisol. Cortisol increases the level of energy fuel available by mobilizing glucose and fatty acids from the liver. Cortisol is normally produced in varying levels throughout the day, typically increasing in concentration upon awakening and slowly declining throughout the day, providing a daily cycle of energy.
The gut has hundreds of millions of neurons which can function fairly independently and are in constant communication with the brain—explaining the ability to feel “butterflies” in the stomach. Stress can affect this brain-gut communication, and may trigger pain, bloating, and other gut discomfort to be felt more easily. The gut is also inhabited by millions of bacteria which can influence its health and the brain’s health, which can impact the ability to think and affect emotions. Stress is associated with changes in gut bacteria which in turn can influence mood. Thus, the gut’s nerves and bacteria strongly influence the brain and vice versa. Early life stress can change the development of the nervous system as well as how the body reacts to stress. These changes can increase the risk for later gut diseases or dysfunctioning.
Stress in Men Chronic stress, ongoing stress over an extended period of time, can affect testosterone production resulting in a decline in sex drive or libido, and can even cause erectile dysfunction or impotence.
Stress in Women Women juggle personal, family, professional, financial, and a broad range of other demands across their life span. Stress, distraction, fatigue, etc., may reduce sexual desire—especially when women are simultaneously caring for young children or other ill family members, coping with chronic medical problems, feeling depressed, experiencing relationship difficulties or abuse, dealing with work problems, etc.
HOW TO LIVE STRESS FREE? We now understand much more about effective strategies for reducing stress responses. Such beneficial strategies include:
• Maintaining a healthy social support network • Engaging in regular physical exercise (HATHA YOGA) • Getting an adequate amount of sleep each night (even napping thru the day) • Deep/ Conscious breathing • A CLEAN and healthy (lots of veggies) DIET. • Meditation
You deserve a long, energetic and happy life… so every now and then, take time for yourself to rest and recover! You are going to be 10x more productive when you are operating at your max!