How Stress Affects Your Health

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Self-preservation is hard-coded into our bodies and reveals itself in various ways. Your stress response is a series of changes triggered by the brain that prepare your body to face a real or perceived threat. While the body was made to handle these short-term boosts, chronic or long-term stress can have lasting effects on your health.

Fight or Flight

Stress affects all body systems, including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems. We need to first look into how the brain switches the body into fight-or-flight mode. This mode powers up the body to quickly eliminate the threat or successfully escape it. It starts with the hypothalamus prompting the adrenal glands to release a surge of adrenaline, cortisol, and other hormones. Below is a summary of their functions:

  • Adrenaline boosts energy supplies and increases your heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Cortisol curbs non-essential functions, increases sugar levels in the blood, and enhances the brain’s use of glucose. Cortisol also alters the immune system response by increasing the availability of substances necessary to repair tissues.

Someone Left the Stress Response On

Though our ancestors faced many more physical harm or death threats, perceived threats are a more common source today. A threat is any situation where the demands exceed our ability or desire to cope. Because each of us bases a threat on our perception, what stresses one person, may not another. Financial issues, family troubles, and heavy workloads are some stressors many individuals face today. These particular examples are not only prevalent; if they do resolve, it can take a while.

Man with hand on his head from stress

When a stressor is always present, the stress response stays on instead of shutting off once the threat is gone. A chronic increase in the heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose levels can lead to numerous complications. Damage to the heart, veins, and arteries in the body are examples of complications from chronic stress and why it can be so widespread and devastating. For instance, every cell in the body relies on a steady supply of oxygen-rich blood and other nutrients to function and live.

When the transport system (veins and arteries) and driving force (heart) that transport the supply are damaged, they cannot nourish the cells in the body effectively. The head-to-toe mental and physical effects include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension and pain
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Increased weight
  • Memory and focus impairment

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) website explains more about the effects of stress on the body’s systems. Learn more about the eye-opening details here.

Advancing Care Options for Chronic Conditions, Stress-Related, or Not!

April is Stress Awareness Month. We encourage you to take this month-long heightened awareness opportunity to learn how to manage and lower your stress levels. The American Heart Association has a lot of great FREE resources on stress management, with many others just an internet search away!

Stress Management resources

Women’s Health Care Research is one of 24 clinics integrated with Wake Research spanning 7 different states. We conduct clinical trials to advance treatments and resources for chronic medical conditions and other therapeutic areas. Partnerships with healthy volunteers and those with medical conditions help make these advancements possible by participating in research studies.

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Whether you’re living with a chronic condition resulting from stress or not, participating in research studies may help. To find a list of available studies in your area, you can search by your zip code on our website or contact us at (919) 781-2514 today!

Sources:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-a-stress-response-3145148