Our lives have become so scheduled and chaotic that some amount of stress has become a new normal. Some stress is actually be good for us, as it:
forces people to problem solve which can create more overall confidence;
can strengthen bonds between people going through same or similar situations;
adds meaning and accomplishment when you complete something that is more difficult;
Physically stresses your body every time you work out, which is what makes your muscles and organs stronger.
However, prolonged stress can have detrimental effects on our body.
Some common physical effects of stress on your body include:
Muscle tension or pain
Change in sex drive
Lack of motivation or focus
Irritability or anger
Sadness or depression
Prolonged stress also negatively impacts the systems of body:
Central Nervous System and Endocrine System
This system is in charge of our flight or fight response
The hypothalamus in brain tells adrenal glands to release stress hormones adrenaline & cortisol, which increases heart rate and sends blood rushing to areas that need it most. (For example our muscles, heart, and other important organs.) When that fear is gone, the hypothalamus should tell all systems to go back to normal. However, when stress is continued, that system doesn’t shut down and release and response continues.
Repeated high heart rate affects our blood pressure, and heart muscle.
Respiratory and Cardiovascular Systems
Prolonged increase in heart rate and breathing rate to deliver oxygenated blood to body.
Prolonged constriction of blood vessels leads to an increase in blood pressure which over time increases risk for stroke and heart attack.
Under stress, our liver produces extra blood sugar (glucose) to boost energy. Chronic over production increases risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Hormones released also upset digestive system, increasing stomach acid which can lead to heartburn and even ulcers.
Stress can affect way food moves through the body causing diarrhea or constipation.
Our muscles become tense during stress. (Tight neck and shoulders anyone?)
Prolonged periods without these muscles relaxing can cause headaches, back and shoulder pain and even some muscle imbalances.
Sexuality & reproductive system
Short term stress can cause men to produce more testosterone, however this effect doesn’t last.
With prolonged stress, testosterone levels drop and interfere with sperm production, causing erectile dysfunction or impotence. Stress can also lead to infection of male reproductive organs.
For women, stress can affect their menstrual cycle causing it to become irregular, heavier, and or more painful. It can also magnify the physical symptoms of menopause.
Stress stimulates our immune system, which in the short term is great! Over time, however, the immune system becomes weak & reduces body’s responsiveness to foreign invaders increasing risk for illness and infection.
When you do become ill or injured, the time it takes to recover Increases because your system is too weak to fight the infection.
Do any of these symptoms sound familiar? The majority of us have probably experienced one or more of these a some point or another. Since we want to do our best to take care of our body, here are some ways we can help manage the stress in our lives:
Physical Activity: Produces endorphins which are our feel good hormones. It also acts as active meditation to distract your mind from your stressors and focus on the movement of your body.
Meditation/yoga: Offers you some time to re-center and reflect without distractions giving your body a break from the stresses in our lives and allowing our systems to relax. Yoga also produces those feel good endorphins.
Hobbies: Gives us a distraction from what may be bothering us or from the responsibilities we are overwhelmed with. Without realizing it, when we start to enjoy ourselves, our body’s naturally relax giving our systems as much needed break.
Socializing with family and friends: Gives us a chance to talk about what may be bothering us, or again offering distraction and naturally letting us relax in a comfortable environment.
Take time for you! Do something that you enjoy just for yourself.