Health Impacts of Stress

Stress can seriously affect your overall health.

The worst is that at the beginning we don’t feel the negative effects of stress because it is a natural reaction. It is part of our natural way to overcome threatening situations.

The health impacts of stress can be both physiological and emotional.

Starting from a light discomfort and ending up with life threatening illnesses. Stress can hit us everywhere.

If you hit your body at a specific place, let’s say your right knee, you will feel a knee ache. Depending on the strength of the hit you will experience different effects on your right knee starting from a superficial wound, inflammation, tendons overstretching or even your ability to walk may be disabled for a period of time. But everything will happen to your right knee, in front of your eyes.

What does stress affect? Where to look for the symptoms? How does stress affect health?

Unfortunately stress doesn’t work the same way.

Stress affects any single part of us through our nervous system balance. Since Mother Nature has created us in a way that there is not a single spot of our body to which the nervous system has no access, stress impacts disseminate everywhere in the body.

Specifically stress affects our health by misbalancing the harmony between the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of our nervous system. The sympathetic branch is responsible for keeping us ready for action; it is the acceleration pedal of the body. The parasympathetic branch is responsible to make us relax, feel more calm and less worried or tense.

Let’s have a closer look at how we react in a stressful situation.

If we classify a situation as threatening the normal reactions of our body are: the heart starts beating faster, release of adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream, drawing blood away from the stomach and extremities of the body and dilating the pupils of the eyes.

This is the usual way stress affect health by influencing our physiology and is known as the fight response – we are ready to fight!

All those changes are driven by the sympathetic branch of the nervous system and are necessary for us to deal with the stressful situation. Let’s say this is an extreme mode of functioning (full capacity mode) we are gifted by Mother Nature to use when we need to react fast and accurate in a situation.

Perfect! You would say. Why don’t we use it constantly since we have it? Unfortunately, my friend, this full capacity mode is extremely energy consuming and exhausting for the body. If this becomes the usual state we are in it can be extremely damaging for your health.

In full capacity mode we need the maximum of any single cellule designed to serve while we are protecting us. The hormones injected into the blood system provoque changes such as temporarily halting digestion, increasing the heartbeats by times, accelerating breathing, postponing all vital processes until the threat passes away or we find a solution … with the only purpose to instantly deliver energy.

Through the nervous system we give the orders for the right hormones to be produced, for the necessary actions to be carried out … And access is granted – no limits – since it is of life importance…

Follow the link to find out a comprehensive description of how stress affect health and the normal functioning of the most important internal organs and systems.

The real problem stems from the fact that our daily round constantly stimulates only the sympathetic branch of our nervous system. We have to constantly find solutions fast, avoid traffic jams, argue with colleagues or relatives…

Even if our life is not threatened directly nowadays the fight reaction becomes the norm and we do not let the parasympathetic branch of our nervous system do its job – namely to bring the hormone levels to their normal state and give our body a deserved rest.

This way day after day stress sucks out our strengths and deteriorates our overall health; we and nobody else supress the vital processes in our bodies by giving higher priorities to fake threats, which consume the energy reserves so necessary to maintain life.

And since humans are different in terms of quality and quantity of strength it is hard to predict how different people will react to stress. Depending on which part of you is the weakest one (because of an illness in your childhood let’s say) or the most overloaded one (due to your daily round) you will feel the physical effects of stress there first.

Emotionally we are dependent on our primary brain (the limbic brain), formed thousands of years ago as a result of evolution. It is this part of brain which is closely connected to the physical condition of the body and is responsible of maintaining the internal balance which keeps us alive (the homeostasis).

What has been recently proven is that in case of strong stress our primary brain (the limbic brain) has the ability to block the external part of human brain, which is responsible of cognitive thinking (the neocortex).

Literally, if something threatens us, Mother Nature has decided that there is no place for thoughts. All reasonable thinking gives way to the most basic instincts and reactions we bring from the very dawn of human kind.

This type of reaction might have been useful thousands of years ago when survival was of the utmost importance. However nowadays it is considered as not so helpful and even as one of the ways stress affect health negatively in the long run.

Nowadays the levels of stress we experience daily is extremely high and we definitely don’t need to run fast in order to find solutions about the numerous problems at work for instance. Just the contrary, we need any intellect we have been gifted to find out the solutions.

It turns out that we appear to be not as efficient as we could be just because of the way stress affects our brain. We loose control over our thoughts and become unable to act in favor of our own benefit.

Dr. Hans Selye, the father of modern studies of stress distinguishes three stages through which the human body passes as a response to stress:

  • Alarm Stage
    This is the phase where all our body prepares to either fight or run away. A number of hormones (adrenaline, noradrenalin, cortisol, glucocorticoids…) are produced with the only purpose to instantly provide energy. This includes postponing all vital processes such as digestion for instance until a later time when the threat will no longer be present.
  • Resistence Stage
    This is the phase when all available resources in the body are mobilized. We try to find out a solution by either accepting the new state and accomodating to the source of stress if we can live with it or by removing its effects and returning to the previous status quo.In either cases we obtain new skills, increase our resistence to the stressors and learn.
  • Exhaustion Stage
    Finally if the stressful condition continues too long the resources available to resist or adapt will be depleted. The person will be completely exhausted both mentally and physically.This is the stage where stress affect health negatively.

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