It is a normal thing to feel stress in this day and age due to the constant fast pace of our lives! But it is important to realise when we are in a constant state of stress and the negative impacts this can begin to have on our bodies.
What happens to our body when we are stressed?
Stress can affect every organ and system in your body, meaning it can cause more than just a restless night sleep if we are constantly experiencing chronic stress. We will discuss the stages that each of your systems go through when experiencing stress and the long term impacts it can begin to have for you.
Most of us have experienced stress at one point or another and can recognise the initial signs that may present. This can include headaches, muscle tightness (particularly around the neck and shoulders), being unable to focus, your mind racing or even flutters in your chest. These are all indicators of the things occurring deeper within each of your crucial systems such as the nervous, circulatory, digestive and immune systems.
Stress causes your heart rate to spike which as a result also increases your blood pressure. Most people’s hearts recover relatively quickly from this when the stress hormone, Cortisol level’s returns to normal again. When you experience long term periods of stress it can result in more chronic conditions such as cardiomyopathy to result. This condition is often known as the broken heart syndrome and can often occur after severe physical or emotional stress, causing the heart’s left ventricle (the pumping chamber) to weaken.
As we have mentioned stress occurs as a response to an increase in the hormone, cortisol. There are also increases in adrenaline and epinephrine within the body when stress occurs and this can affect our sleep, explaining why we can struggle to get a restful night. The combination of these hormones also increases an individual’s likelihood of having a stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure or even developing anxiety and depression.
Besides experiencing some butterflies in your tummy when you become stressed or overwhelmed, stress can have many negative side effects on our digestive tract. Our digestive tract is filled with nerve endings and immune cells which are heavily impacted by the hormones released when we are stressed. This can cause symptoms and conditions like acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease to develop.
Studies have found that those who experience chronic stress have more activity in the amygdala brain region which is associated with fear and emotion. It can even affect how the brain processes information and negatively impact your cognition and attention levels, explaining why it can be hard to focus or learn new things when you are experiencing stress.
I’m sure you have all experienced it, that at the most crucial time at work, when Uni exams are approaching or on the first day of your holidays, you come down with a dreaded cold. This is due to your stress levels being high for so long leading up to these events that your immune system has weakened as a result.
3 tips to decrease your stress.
By Aleisha Michael
Accredited Exercise Physiologist