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 we were being chased by a wild animal. In this instance the body brings on important changes in our body to help us 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 we are 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.
When we are stressed the body produces a number of hormones, mainly adrenaline, noradrenaline & cortisol. These 3 hormones affect our bodies 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 us bleeding to death should we be attacked.
Expands the air passages of the lungs & quickens our breathing so that we get more oxygen into our blood stream.
Enlarges the pupil in the eyes so we can take in more light to help us 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 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. immune system, reproductive system etc.
This is important if we are faced with a real threat, however, in our day and age much of our stress is brought on by a perceived threat or heavy workload etc .
Chronic stress occurs when we are faced with persistent and unrelenting stressors in our life, day after day. This means that day after day the body is constantly experiencing the stress response. Unfortunately this means that every day the heart is beating faster, blood is being diverted from non essential organs such as the digestive system and other non essential activity such as the immune system and reproductive system are suppressed. This is obviously not a healthy situation to be in and can lead to illness, mental & physical exhaustion and ageing.
Chronic stress can cause the following:
Heart attacks & stroke due to increased heart rate & blood pressure.
Increased risk of digestive disorders as blood is diverted to muscles.
Suppressed immunity which can lead to the increased risk of disease & infection.
Anti-aging hormones reduced so our bodies age faster.
Repressed reproductive system as the necessary hormones are not produced.
Watch this video which shows you how chronic stress affects the body.
How Can Stress Management Techniques Help?
To reverse the stress response we have to activate the body’s natural relaxation response. Relaxation techniques can help to quieten the mind and activate the relaxation response. The more you practice relaxing the mind the more profound the effects become. Some people say that they relax by laying on the couch, watching TV or sleeping, but this does not initiate the relaxation response.
The Relaxation Response is:
A mentally active process that quietens the mind & relaxes the body.
Best done in an awake state.
Trainable and becomes more and more profound with practice.
The idea is to create an empty mind rather than one that is busy with constant thoughts. Methods such as meditation, Mindfulness, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, visual imagery, deep breathing, hypnosis and yoga can all bring on the relaxation response.
Regularly taking part in the use of these methods may well 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.
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