If you’re like many people, you probably sometimes wonder about what stress may be doing to your body. Below is some helpful information about why you experience stress and just how much it impacts your physical well-being.
Understanding Fight or Flight
According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can affect your health in many ways. However, your stress response system is not something that you voluntarily choose to engage. Rather, it’s an involuntary reaction that can be set off by a number of factors. It’s essentially the classic fight or flight response that your ancestors needed to prepare them for a quick getaway or a fierce battle. A release of adrenaline, opening of lung airways, and an accelerated heartbeat are several indicators that this response has engaged.
In today’s modern world, you rarely need to flee or fight, but your body still initiates this reaction in response to a variety of situations. These include a looming deadline, a disagreeable coworker or boss, a traffic jam, or a family emergency. Because issues of this type aren’t usually over in one brief episode, the fight or flight response in your system leads to other problems.
Impaired Function of Your Heart and Brain
Although it rarely causes a sudden heart attack or stroke, the accumulated effects of stress on the body pose a real danger to your heart and brain. For example, stress contributes to each of the top risk factors for cardiac disease: obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and abnormal cholesterol levels.
Chronic stress also has a negative effect on a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is responsible for your sense of direction, problem-solving ability, and short-term memory. For this reason, during periods of prolonged anxiety, you may be forgetful or find yourself unable to properly follow directions, even if you’re normally very good at such tasks.
Not surprisingly, mental strain can also lead to premature aging. This is because it leads to the loss of telomeres, which are protective caps at the end of each DNA strand in your body. Whenever a cell divides, some of its telomeres are lost. In most cases, telomerase—an important human enzyme—replenishes these telomeres.
However, a prolonged stressful state decreases your body’s supply of this important enzyme, resulting in cell inflammation or cell death. When this happens, it often manifests in the form of increased wrinkles, premature hair loss, sore aching joints, and other issues that, like most people, you want to avoid for as long as possible.
Depleted Energy Levels
Chronic worry or pressure can also make you feel exhausted, even if you’re getting enough sleep. This is because your body’s adrenal glands must provide energy on demand for a broad range of situations on a daily basis. However, if you are constantly overly anxious and worried, these battery reserves may become depleted, resulting in anything from a simple lack of energy to debilitating fatigue.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to decrease stress in your life, such as eating healthy, exercising, or meditating. Even simple things like deep breathing exercises can go a long way toward combating this reaction. Now that you know a bit more about the effects of stress on the body, you can take steps toward reducing or eliminating its presence in your life.