How Stress Affects Your Whole Body.
Many of us are familiar with the concept of stress, yet would find it challenging to identify what it actually is. Meaning, many of us can describe the sensation of stress, but are unaware of what is actually happening when we are in a state of stress.
By understanding stress and its impact on both our physical and mental health, we can become more equipped to deal with it.
You are not alone.
Mental Health Awareness Month has come to a close, but that doesn’t make this point any less valid.
Everyone struggles with their own mental health battles, and stress is an adversary we all confront from time to time.
But should we really consider stress an enemy? Not necessarily. Stress is actually supposed to be helpful.
Stress refers to the body’s natural reaction to life-threatening situations. In what is known as a “fight-or-flight” response, our body starts to prepare for confronting a foe head on, or retreating to safety.
Physiological reactions start to occur. Your muscles tense, blood circulates faster, your breathing quickens… all with the express aim of helping your body achieve an optimal survival state.
When it comes to non-life-threatening situations, stress can also be helpful as a motivator, such as pushing us to fully prepare for an important job interview.
The problems begin when stress starts to become a part of daily life.
There is a big difference between acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress occurs after a severe traumatic event. It is typically very intense, but does not last very long.
Chronic stress, while not necessarily particularly intense, creates problems of its own. The term “chronic” refers to its long-term duration, and once someone starts to experience chronic stress, it can be very difficult to stop.
Due to the long-term nature of chronic stress, the body does not receive the signal to restore itself to normal functioning.
Our bodies are not equipped to handle stress on a long-term basis. When experienced consistently, these “fight-or-flight” reactions start to wear the body down, damaging various parts of the digestive, immune, and cardiovascular systems, to name a few.
What are the symptoms of stress?
While everyone reacts to stress differently, the American Institute of Stress has compiled a list of potential symptoms for you to become familiar with. They include:
- Frequent headaches.
- Difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts.
- Gritting, grinding teeth.
- Insomnia, nightmares, disturbing dreams.
- Increased anger, frustration, hostility.
These symptoms are many and wide-ranging. But it’s important to not forget that the effects of stress are not limited to emotions and behavior.
How does stress affect the rest of the body?
The AIS goes on to demonstrate the importance of understanding the pressure stress puts on our bodily tissue, organs, and various systems. Here are just a few examples:
The Musculoskeletal System
When our body is under stress, our muscles tense. This is a physical response to a perceived threat, our body’s way of protecting us from physical pain. Normally the onset of stress would be sudden, our muscles would tense together, and relax when the moment passes.
However, this is not the case with chronic stress. As mentioned earlier, the body does not receive a signal to return to normal functioning. So the muscles will simply stay tense.
Chronic muscle tension can lead to severely painful conditions, such as migraine headaches, which have been shown to be caused by a buildup of tension in the neck, shoulders, and head.
The American Psychological Association claims that:
“Relaxation techniques and other stress-relieving activities and therapies have been shown to effectively reduce muscle tension, decrease the incidence of certain stress-related disorders, such as headache, and increase a sense of well-being. For those who develop chronic pain conditions, stress-relieving activities have been shown to improve mood and daily function.”
The Respiratory System
We all know that breathing is important! But what exactly does the respiratory system do? Well, it supplies oxygen to the cells within our body, and it also removes carbon dioxide waste as well. The system concludes with the bronchioles transferring the oxygen into our red blood cells for circulation.
Stress can have a huge impact on our oxygen intake as it can instigate shortness of breath and rapid breathing patterns. The more excessive these patterns become, the more likely someone will start to hyperventilate and experience a panic attack.
In regards to treatment of the respiratory system, the APA claims:
“Working with a psychologist to develop relaxation, breathing, and other cognitive behavioral strategies can help.”
The Immune System
Not even the immune system is safe from the clutches of chronic stress.
The immune system is our body’s defense system, the part responsible for protecting us from foreign cells and harmful bacteria.
The central cells for fighting off infections are our white blood cells, and these are split into two broad categories: lymphocytes and phagocytes.
The lymphocytes are then broken down into two further categories: B cells and T cells.
The B cells produce antibodies that are released into the fluid surrounding our cells in an attempt to destroy the invaders.
If the B cells are not able to stop the virus from infecting a cell, the T cells target the infected cell, multiply, and destroy it.
So what does this have to do with stress?
When we are stressed we release stress hormones, one of which is corticosteroid.
Corticosteroid limits the amount of lymphocytes the body is able to produce. In the cases of normal, brief periods of stress, this isn’t much to worry about. But in the case of long-term, chronic stress, it can really suppress a person’s immune system.
This is why it was so important to us to create immune-boosting products that promote a healthy stress response.
What is the point of boosting an immune system that is perpetually compromised by an unhealthy stress response? It’s like trying to inflate a tire that’s been punctured.
To make sure you’re giving your body the protection it deserves, click here to find a product that respects the importance of managing stress.
If you’d like to learn more join us on Wednesday as we discuss our special class of ingredients used to combat stress…
* Featured Image Credit: Designed by Kues / Freepik