Do you feel like you’re constantly under pressure? Do stress and anxiety seem to rule your life? If so, you’re not alone. Stress is one of the most common problems people experience today. But what exactly is stress, and how does it affect our bodies? This blog post will explore the effects of stress on our physical and mental health, and offer some helpful tips for managing stress. Stay tuned!
What is stress and why does is effect the human body so much?
The word stress has become one that is synonymous with our busy modern lives. Most of us refer to being “ stressed out” or “ under the effects of stress” in regards to excessive work, emotional problems or when we simply have too much on one play, trying to do too many things at once.
The word stress has become one that is synonymous with our busy modern lives. Most of us refer to being “ stressed out” or “ under the effects of stress” in regards to excessive work, emotional problems or when we simply have too much on one play, trying to do too many things at once. In other words we are accustomed to referring to stress as being caused by emotional factors. However, stress also occurs through other influences such as physical and chemical factors just as frequently as emotional ones. Without identifying these causes we can unintentionally keep our body in a state of stress day after day without realising that the effects are equally as dangerous and deleterious as the effects caused by emotional stress
Understanding the stress response is important as this allows us to look at our own lives and relate to how certain factors may be placing us in a stressful state. In these modern times the majority of people who would classify as being in a stressful state would report feeling “unstressed”, however this is actually defined by the level of an important hormone called Cortisol to determine whether somebody is in a stressful state or not. When our body needs to adapt to a situation in order to survive or maintain normal function there are a series of physiological processes that occur to allow this. This adaptation can take us away from our normal healthy state of homeostasis.
Back in the day, thousands of years ago in Palaeolithic times, removing ourselves from a stressful situation would mean escaping from an imminent attack from a saber tooth tiger or deciding that the attack was not avoidable and confronting the Tiger. The word dinosaur pterodactyl could also be used in the place of Tiger, but in any case, stress Wayback then was extremely important in allowing us the best chance to survive. It was also short lasting, because in the short amount of time a person would have been able to escape danger or would have perished in the fight against it. This is a really important point to understand because we can recognise that stress was never meant to be prolonged and chronic like it is in modern times.
Chemical stress responses in our body and brain
When our brain decides that we need to be placed in a stressful state it elevates the level of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol coordinates many physiological functions in order to prepare our body for the fight or flight response. Heart rate and blood pressure increase, which makes sense because somebody may need to rely on an increased cardiac output while they are fleeing or defending themselves. It also regulates lipid (fat) and glucose (sugar) metabolism to be able to get a maximum amount of fuel to favour maximum bodily output. This is why, If you have ever been under the effects of stress. you may relate to the compulsion to eat fatty or sugary foods at this time. Cortisol also increases insulin accordingly. The stress response invokes an increase in cholesterol as the possibility of losing a limb in the process of defending oneself from a prehistoric animal would mean that blood clotting is necessary to minimise blood loss. Important functions such as immunity, digestion and reproduction are definitely not necessary, and are therefore down regulated at these times. Immunity may be necessary if we survive the attack however during the attack immunological function is also down regulated as well as hormones related to reproduction, such as testosterone and progesterone. Brain functions such as focus and concentration are put on hold as there is no need to remember a shopping list whilst having your arm chewed off by a sabre-tooth tiger.
Now let’s jump to modern times. The stress that we suffer has now become chronic and ongoing. What we need to remember here is that stress was never meant to be prolonged. Understandably, we would encounter danger in Palaeolithic times and would deal with it or die in the process. All of the physiological functions described above and many more were intended to be activated for short periods of time because that is all it would’ve taken to fight off a dinosaur or run away from it. Our modern day stress includes obvious factors such as emotional influences i.e. deadlines for projects at work, excessive workloads, our mind being stimulated by too many sources of information, what we see on the news etc. It also includes other forms of stress that most people fail to recognise.
Factors such as too much exercise, exposure to artificial light after the sun has gone down, a diet high in sugar, trans-fats and other inflammatory foods. Or when our lives are lacking exercise and movement. For a body that was programmed to receive regular physical activity, exposure to the sun to regulate circadian rhythm, and diets that were congruent with cell function and not detrimental to it, it’s no wonder that our body fits its best to adapt. In our modern lives there are dozens of influences that can be perceived by our body as being stressful.
Each one of these triggers the physiological responses described above, such as elevation of insulin and cholesterol, down regulation of sleep hormones such as melatonin and our gonadotrophin‘s (sex hormones), chronic elevation of blood pressure etc.
How to adapt to stress
It is important to remember that the body adapts to the stressful environment that we place it in. It does not have the capacity to distinguish if the stressful stimulus is a dinosaur or simply excessive junk artificial light in front of the computer. Any factor not congruent with a cell’s function and therefore not congruent with maintaining our body in homeostasis, will understandably put our body in a state where it needs to adapt to it. When this adaptation is prolonged the stress response is maintained for dangerously long periods of time. Understanding what stress is and how it affects our body motivates many people to analyse the stressful factors that are present in their lives before they have fatal consequences on their lives.
Stress is not a word that we should use loosely just because it is common. Heart attacks are common but they are not normal. Similarly, stress is so common and people are so accustomed to it that they believe that it is normal. If you are affected by stressful stimuli do yourself a favour and do everything possible to remove those stressful influences as soon as possible. At the same time do everything possible to include practices such as mindfulness, breath work, meditation, regular exercise, good quality sleep practices, making sure that you work to live and not live to work. There are many more influences to consider. Recognising what they are and making a plan of action to combat them will not only give you a greater quality of life, it will literally add good quality years to your life. Too many people are losing their lives and the quality of their lives to the devastating effects of stress. Factors that cause stress are easy to correct. Please don’t leave it until it is too late to recognise what is stressful for your body.