We are all prone to stress sometimes - some more than others - and the way in which our bodies respond to this stress can be quite damaging to our long term health.

Fight of Flight

When a stressful situation begins to arise, the hypothalamus - a control centre in the brain - is responsible for initiating the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands. Once this happens, you can observe the usual symptoms of stress begin to become apparent. For example, your breathing may become more rapid and you may feel more awake and alert. You could also notice that you get a headache or begin to feel nauseous.

This is your body getting into fight or flight mode! When this happens only occasionally, there is no real problem when it comes to your health. However, long term over-exposure to these stress hormones can cause a whole host of problems. Read on to discover what these problems are and what they could mean for your body. 

Chronic Stress

Chronic stress is the term given to stress that is persistent. Generally once the cause of a normal stressful situation has been dealt with, the hypothalamus will tell the adrenals not to release any more stress hormones. Once this happens, your body should return to functioning as normal. If this doesn’t happen for an extended period of time, then the stress response will continue!

Symptoms of chronic stress include:

  • Anxiety
  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Headaches

Several different systems in the body can be affected by stress, whether this is regular stress or chronic stress.

The Cardiovascular System

When your body is responding to stress, you will usually breathe at an increased rate and your heart will pump faster. This happens as your heart is attempting to send oxygen-rich blood around the body quicker than it usually would. This can be a problem for those who already have breathing difficulties.

The stress hormones released by your adrenal glands will constrict your blood vessels as more oxygen is diverted to your muscles through the blood stream. The reason behind this is to give greater strength to your muscles if the stressful situation requires you to take action! However, this diversion of the oxygen will also cause your blood pressure to rise.

With heightened blood pressure, your risk of having a heart attack or having a stroke is also increased.

The Digestive System

The liver will produce additional glucose when you are under stress. This happens in order to give your body an extra burst of energy. When chronic stress is being experienced, then your body may end up with more glucose than it can reasonably handle.

This can lead to the onset of type 2 diabetes and other health issues. Your digestive system can become disturbed by the presence of additional hormones and you may develop heartburn and acid reflux. This can also cause ulcers to present in the stomach.

Muscular System

You have probably noticed that when you are stressed out you tend to feel your muscles tense up. This happens as your body is attempting to prevent any injuries that might occur from the perceived threat that is stressing you out! Once the stressful situation has passed, your body will usually relax again. However, if you are under frequent stress, or you are suffering from chronic stress, then your muscles are going to become tight. This can then lead to headaches and pain in other parts of your body.

Reproductive System

Males who produce testosterone can have their testosterone production negatively affected when they are suffering from chronic stress. This can not only have an impact on sperm production, but can also lead to erectile dysfunction. Men are also at a heightened risk of infections of the reproductive organs when their stress is chronic.

Women who menstruate may notice that their menstrual cycles are affected by ongoing stress. Periods can become heavier, more painful or more irregular. The symptoms of the menopause may also be exacerbated by stress.

Staying Stress Free

As you can see, the detrimental effects of stress - chronic or otherwise - can be far-reaching and difficult to avoid. In order to preserve your health and maintain your happiness, you should always strive to deal with stressful situations as son as they arise, and never allow stressful situations to continue for long. Confrontation can often be difficult, but it is important for your physical and mental health that you do not allow stress to exist in abundance in your life!

There are many activities that you can take part in that help to promote feelings of calm and relaxation. For example, yoga, meditation and Tai Chi are great ways to get active whilst you also remain peaceful. Making sure to engage in these activities regularly can soon add up to great things for your health and your happiness - and also keep you stress free!