In today’s chaotic world, this one word has become a common addition to your vocabulary. It is an invisible force pressing down on you for most of the day, urging you to get things done. It spurs you into action and keeps you on edge.
But, what does stress truly mean?
Stress is the body’s natural physical and mental reaction to pressure. When your body senses any kind of danger – whether it’s real or imagined – it triggers your fight-or-flight reaction, and releases a flood of stress hormones.
In normal conditions, this reaction helps you stay focused, energetic and alert. It can even save your life in emergency situations. It helps you face challenges and acts as a motivator. It keeps you alert and sharpens your concentration.
However, too much stress can negatively impact your life. When your fight-or-flight response system is activated, your body produces large quantities of chemicals like cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine, which trigger physical reactions like increased blood pressure, faster heart rate, heightened muscle tension, sweating and alertness. These normally allow you to react to a potentially dangerous situation.
On the other hand, chronic stress, that develops over a long period of time, can have detrimental effects on your health. It occurs when a person has no way to avoid their stressors. Chronic stress wreaks havoc on the body, causing extreme mental and physical issues.
It affects the central nervous system, which is in charge of the fight-or-flight response. The hypothalamus is responsible for the release of the stress hormones, namely adrenalin and cortisol. They increase your heartbeat, and send blood rushing to various parts of your body. In cases where the stressor remains, or the central nervous system does not return to normal, this process will continue, sometimes leading to overeating or undereating, alcohol or drug abuse and social withdrawal.
In addition, stress has an adverse effect on your respiratory and cardiovascular systems. You often breathe faster at times of stress to intake more oxygen. Stress hormones also cause your blood vessels to constrict and divert oxygen to muscles to gather more strength, raising your blood pressure. This also increases your risks of having a stroke or heart attack.
Moreover, your liver produces extra blood sugar under stress in order to increase your energy. In the case of chronic stress, your body may not be able to keep up with the extra glucose content, hence increasing the chances of developing type 2 diabetes. The rush of hormones, rapid breathing and increased heart rate can also lead to an upset digestive system, making it more likely to have heartburn or acid reflux. It also increases the risk of ulcers, and can lead to diarrhea, constipations, nauseas, vomiting or stomachache.
Furthermore, chronic stress causes your muscles to tense up. When you are constantly under stress, your muscles will not be able to relax, and further cause headaches, back and shoulder pain and general body aches.
Besides, chronic stress can weaken your immune system over time. While stress stimulates the immune system to help avoid infection and heal wounds at the start, constant stress eventually weakens your immune system. This makes your body more vulnerable to foreign invaders.
In order to avoid chronic stress, it is essential that you keep track of your mental health, and make sure that there are not too many things bearing upon you. There are numerous ways to relieve stress, exercise being the most prominent one, since it can lower your stress hormones, improve sleep, and boost your confidence. Maintaining a balanced diet and getting proper sleep are also important factors that can help prevent stress.
Having a positive outlook in life is also extremely important, and can help you function without any hindrances. Make sure to spend some time for yourselves. It is important to practice self-care, especially in these times.
Remember, you can do anything, but not everything.