Stress – How It Affects the Body and What You Can Do About It
What Is Stress?
We all know what stress is and have all encountered it at some point in our lives. Stress can be brought on by a real threat, for example if you were being chased by a wild animal. In this instance the body brings on important changes to help you fight or run, this is called the fight or flight response or the stress response. Stress can also be brought on by a perceived threat, for example if you were worrying about something that may happen in the future, also called catastrophising. There are also many other factors in life that can cause us to become stressed e.g. heavy workload, loss & bereavement etc.
What happens in your body when you become stressed?
When you become stressed the body produces a number of stress hormones, mainly adrenaline, noradrenaline & cortisol. These 3 hormones affect the body in the following ways:
Increases heart rate & blood pressure to pump blood to the muscles quicker.
Increases the blood clotting capability in the blood to stop you bleeding to death should you be attacked.
Expands the air passages of the lungs & quickens your breathing so that you get more oxygen into the blood stream and to the muscles.
Enlarges the pupil in the eyes so you can take in more light to help you see better.
Redistributes blood from non essential organs such as the digestive system to the muscles.
Stimulates the thyroid gland to produce more hormones to increase the metabolism.
The blood sugar level is increased so that the cells of the muscles can produce more energy.
Suppresses other non essential activity e.g. the immune system, reproductive system etc.
This is important if you were being faced by a real threat, such as being chased by a wild animal, however, in our day and age much of our stress is brought on by a perceived threat or heavy workload.
To have these changes taking place in your body on a regular basis is not good for your mental and physical health and can lead to chronic stress.
The effects of chronic stress on the body
Chronic stress has been shown to lead to:
Heart attacks & stroke due to increased heart rate & blood pressure and thickening of the blood.
Increased risk of digestive disorders as the blood is constantly being diverted to the muscles.
Suppressed immunity which can lead to the increased risk of disease & infection.
Anti-ageing hormones reduced so the body ages faster.
Reproductive issues due to the suppression of the reproductive system.
Watch this Youtube video which explains more about what happens to your body when you become stressed.
4 Simple things that you can do to activate the body's natural relaxation response
To overcome stress you need to activate the body’s natural relaxation response. This can be done by regularly taking part in techniques that can help to quieten the mind and relax the body. Methods such as meditation, mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, visual imagery, deep breathing exercises, hypnosis and yoga can all bring on the relaxation response.
Here are four simple things that you can do to start introducing a practice into your daily life which will help invoke the relaxation response:
1. Practice doing a deep breathing exercise / meditation twice a day, for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening.
Here is a guided meditation that you can listen to. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BL0jADvoEk&t=320s.
2. Take 3 minute breathing breaks a few times a day, just to give your mind / body a rest.
Here is a 3 minute meditation if you would like to listen to this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLuWsA_-xXQ
3. Take an hour lunch every day. Ensure you use this time to be mindful and to give your mind a rest. Avoid thinking about work or what you’ve got to do today/tomorrow/next month or using your phone / laptop etc. Again this will give your mind/body time to rest & recuperate. 4. Go for a mindful walk a few times a week get out in nature and notice everything that you can see, hear, feel, smell, taste, touch around you; the sound of the birds in the trees, the sun, the blue sky, the clouds moving across the sky, the feeling of the cool, fresh air on your face, the different shapes of the trees and the different textures of the bark, the taste and smell of the fresh air etc. Keep your mind focused on the present moment as much as you can.
Regularly taking part in the use of these methods will help to lower the production of stress hormones, lower blood pressure and reverse all the things that are brought on by the stress response. All in all you will sleep better, feel healthier, improve mental capability and overall you will be doing your body and mind the world of good.
The more you practice relaxing the mind the more profound the effects become.
Find out how I can help you improve your physical and emotional health and well-being here.
Disclaimer: Always consult with your GP before embarking on any health programme.
Source The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook – Martha Davies & Matthew McKay