What Effect does Stress Have on your Body?

The stress response is extremely important and well adapted from an evolutionary standpoint, allowing animals to survive unexpected threats. All animals respond to stress by releasing hormones such as adrenaline and glucocorticoids which instantaneously increase heart rate and energy levels. In this moment, the body also shuts down all non-essential functions such as digestion, growth or reproduction. This reaction is a healthy response to an acute stressor. 

In today’s world we are faced with plenty of non-life-threatening stress such as worrying about money, making your boss happy or working long hours regularly. These situations occur on a day to day basis and our bodies respond to them in the same manner they would for a life-threatening stressor. This can have severe consequences for a person’s health and well-being

According to neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, the constant stress in our lives is caused mostly by psychosocial stimuli. Below is a list of the different bodily functions that are impaired by chronic and repetitive psychological stress:

  • Adult diabetes and high blood pressure increases, which can even lead to heart disease.
  • Gastrointestinal disorders that may adversely impact the immune system.
  • The reproductive system  of some individuals can be affected and they may experience erectile dysfunction or irregular menstrual cycles 
  • Stress impacts the areas in our brains that help with memory, learning and judgement. As a result, these areas tend to function poorly when under stress.
  • In children, psychological stress can affect their physical and mental development.
  • While there is an increase in some hormones during the stress response, production of other hormones such as serotonin are reduced. This can ultimately lead to depression or other mental health disorders.

It is important to keep in mind that the above health problems are caused by chronic repetitive stress that an individual has not addressed at an earlier stage. Experiencing stress and anxiety is common and a person should not be disheartened by these emotions. Most often, people develop unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance abuse, excessive spending or binge eating. 

Here are some alternative coping mechanisms to help you deal with stress:

  • Physical activity and exercise: Improves blood circulation, regulates breathing,  increases oxygen levels which will improve brain functioning, calms the nervous system, cleanses the lungs and facilitates quality sleep.
  • Relaxing Activities: Spending time in nature, journaling, aromatherapy or yoga can help. They all work in different ways - for example, journaling allows you to reflect and process your emotions. According to psychologist Robert Emmons, it can significantly improve your well-being and life satisfaction.
  • Goal setting: Prioritising is a great way to avoid unnecessary stress. Analyse your schedule, responsibilities and daily tasks, and remove those that are not extremely important or urgent. 
  • Pursuing hobbies: Make time to do things that you enjoy such as, catching up with friends, spending time with family, listening to music, painting or cooking.

Although we cannot instantly change the amount of stress we endure, we can find ways to cope with its adverse effects in a healthy manner. In order to combat the constant presence of stress, it is beneficial to incorporate some of the above activities in your daily routine. Establishing them as a part of your routine will help manage and regulate the overwhelming emotions. Managing stress can be challenging at first, but it does become easier with time.

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