Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension that causes your body to react to the challenge, feeling, or demand that generated it. In brief bursts, stress can be a positive thing, such as when it helps you avoid danger or meet a deadline. Stress is, unfortunately, a normal part of life. Many things that happen to you, are around you, or that you do yourself can put stress on your body. Stress can do some strange things to your body as we will discuss below.
4 Body Systems Affected By Stress
- The Digestive System. When we are stressed, our brain sends signals for chemicals such as adrenaline, serotonin as well as the stress hormone cortisol to be released. As a result, adverse reactions can occur. Stress can negatively affect our digestive system in a variety of ways. It can cause a decrease in blood and oxygen flow to the stomach, causing cramping, an imbalance in gut bacteria, as well as inflammation. These symptoms can further develop into gastrointestinal (GI) disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), irritable bowel disease (IBD), peptic ulcers, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- The Endocrine And Central Nervous System. The central nervous system (CNS) is what commands your “fight or flight” response. When triggered, the hypothalamus starts by telling your adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones increase your heart rate and send blood rushing to the areas that need it most in an emergency, such as your muscles, heart, and other important organs. When the perceived fear is gone, the hypothalamus then instructs all systems to return to normal. If the CNS fails to return to normal, or if the stressor doesn’t go away, then the response will continue.
- The Cardiovascular System. When there are frequent and prolonged episodes of stress, the body elevates blood sugar and blood pressure, both of which are well-known contributors to heart disease. It stands to reason that extended periods of constant stress can cause trouble. Not to mention, those who are often under stress may tend to use less than healthy coping mechanisms such as eating unhealthy food, drinking alcohol, and smoking. These factors cause harm to the body in a myriad of ways, such as damage to the artery walls and subsequent plaque buildup. This buildup impedes blood flow and can even lead to complete blockages. As a result, the risk of major cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke are far higher than normal.
- The Muscular System. When the body is under stress, muscle tension is a reflex reaction to stress as the body’s way of guarding against injury and pain. With sudden onset stress, the muscles tense up and then release their tension when the stress passes. Chronic stress, however, causes the muscles in the body to be in a more or less constant state of guardedness. When the muscles are tight and tense for long periods of time, other reactions of the body can be triggered such as headaches, as well as flaring symptoms of arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other conditions.
Establishing a clear understanding of how stress impacts your physical and mental health is important. Stress is powerful and should never be underestimated!
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