Physical Side Effects Of Becoming Too Stressed
Just a passing observation, but isn’t it odd that we have been blessed with so many “time-saving” gadgets and yet we are still stressed daily? We carry our cell phones and planners with us constantly so we can schedule appointments and get reminders every minute of the day. We never miss a call and set alarms to remind us of every meeting. We have google and GPS to tell us where traffic has slowed down and a faster route to get to our destination. Why do we seem to feel more and more stressed as we work to be productive every day?
Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to life experiences. Everyone expresses stress from time to time. Anything from everyday responsibilities like work and family to serious life events such as a new diagnosis, war, or the death of a loved one can trigger stress. For immediate, short-term situations, stress can be beneficial to our health. It can help us cope with potentially serious situations. Our body responds to stress by releasing hormones that increase our heart and breathing rates and ready our muscles to respond. This is termed our ‘fight or flight’ response.
Yet if our stress response doesn’t stop firing, and these stress levels stay elevated far longer than is necessary for survival, it can take a toll on our health. Chronic stress can cause a variety of symptoms and affect our overall well-being. Stress raises its ugly head in many ways:
Musculoskeletal system – under stress, muscles tense up. The contraction of muscles for extended periods can trigger tension headaches, migraines, and various musculoskeletal conditions. We have all experienced this when we want someone to rub our shoulders and massage our upper back muscles.
Gastrointestinal system – Stress can prompt us to eat much more or much less than we would normally. If we eat more than normal, or increase our use of tobacco or alcohol, we may experience heartburn and acid reflux. Our stomach can react with uneasiness, nausea, or even cause us to vomit if the stress is intense.
Cardiovascular system – acute stress, stress that is momentary, such as being stuck in traffic, causes an increase in heart rate and stronger contractions of the heart. Blood vessels that direct blood to the large muscles and to the heart dilate, increasing the amount of blood pumped to these parts of the body. Repeated episodes of acute stress can cause inflammation of the coronary arteries and possibly lead to a heart attack.
Respiratory system – Stress makes us breathe harder and faster, which has the potential to bring on panic attacks in some people.
Nervous system – all our responses to stress are controlled by the nervous system. When we feel stressed, physically or psychologically, our body suddenly shifts its energy to fighting off the perceived threat. The sympathetic nervous system signals the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones make the heartbeat faster, raise blood pressure, change the digestive process and boost glucose levels in the bloodstream. If this elevated level of hormone releases continues and our body stays in this ‘fight or flight’ mode, we quickly feel sapped of energy and need to rest. These conditions lead to the process often described as “burnout” with serious consequences if allowed to continue.
The effects of stress are seen and felt in all aspects of our physical and emotional well-being. Perhaps the best advice is to slow down, don’t take life too seriously, take time to relax and enjoy simple pleasures. Regular rest, regular exercise and optimal nutrition are positive ways to help combat the effects of stress.