You’re sitting in traffic, running late for a flight. The minutes tick by and traffic hasn’t moved an inch. Your hypothalamus, an important regulator in your brain, begins releasing stress hormones.
These stress hormones are identical to the ones that trigger “fight or flight” responses. Your heart beats uncontrollably and you begin to hyperventilate. Your body stiffens and gets ready to react.
The purpose of this response is to shield your body in an emergency by preparing you to react. The problem is when the stress response keeps firing day after day putting your health at risk.
Stress is a completely natural phenomenon. Everyone you know experiences stress occasionally. Anything from work, family events, or even everyday responsibilities will trigger stress.
Not all stress is bad. It will assist you when dealing with large life obstacles. Hormones released by stress increase your alertness and can even save your life in a dangerous situation.
Yet if your stress stays elevated for longer than it takes to deal with the situation, there will be negative health effects. Chronic stress leads to a lower quality of life and can eventually lead to death.
Chronic stress can also be a major factor in other disorders. Alcohol and drug abuse, social withdrawal, and panic disorders all can involve chronic stress.
Your liver reacts to stress by producing additional glucose to provide an energy boost. People with chronic stress keep produce an unhealthy amount of blood sugar. This blood sugar can contribute to type 2 diabetes.
People with chronic stress experience heartburn and acid reflux more commonly. Though it doesn’t cause ulcers, it certainly exacerbates existing ones. Stress can also lead to constipation, nausea, diarrhea and other stomach issues.
Heart and Respiratory Issues
The impact of stress hormones can be felt by both your respiratory and cardiovascular systems. While under stress, your body quickens your breathing to generate more oxygen for your blood. If you already have respiratory issues, stress will make it difficult to breathe. It can trigger asthma attacks that can potentially be fatal
To distribute more blood, your heart will pump quicker. Blood is diverted to muscles providing additional strength and reaction times. Simultaneously your blood pressure rises putting you more at risk for strokes or cardiac arrest.
Stress can provide a short-term boost to your immune system. Your body heals faster and can beat off colds and the flu more effectively. Stress hormones will build up and eventually weaken the immune system. People experiencing extended levels of stress become more susceptible to illnesses and infections.
Stress can be draining. Many men and women lose their sex drive when they experience long periods of stress.
For men, stress can lead to a drop in testosterone. This can lead to erectile dysfunction as well as other sexual performance issues. Women can face menstrual problems. Periods can be heavier, hard to predict and more painful. For those old enough, it can exacerbate the already uncomfortable symptoms of menopause.
Because stress-related muscle tension, people can develop headaches, back pain, and overall body aches. Over a long enough period, permanent muscle and nerve damage can turn pain into a chronic condition.