As you shake off the stress of the week, here’s a little reminder of the effects of stress and why it’s worth trying to experience less in the first place. We’ve called this ‘the top 3 effects of stress’ as if it’s something you’d like, something that it would be great to hear – like ‘the top 3 benefits of ice cream’.
But this is not a good list, and not something you’ll like, especially if you know you’re affected by stress, which most of us are by the way.
So, straight in at number 3 – is – well, go on then, let’s start with a bit of a positive…
Your body’s response to a stressful situation involves the release of various hormones (cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine) which get your body ready for instant action. Your heart beats faster, you are more capable of a fast and strong physical reaction, and you are more mentally alert and able to respond to the situation. Which is all great if you are faced by a genuine emergency.
Over time, these hormones have a detrimental effect on your body. There is a great deal of evidence indicating that these stress hormones, over time, cause higher blood pressure and hypertension. Cortisol is known to reduce the function of the endothelium, or inner lining of the blood vessels, in a way that leads to the process of atheroschlerosis or the cholesterol plaque build up in our arteries, and thus increase the chances of heart attack and stroke.
These stress hormones also change your brain. Released over a long period of time, they increase the neural connections in your amygdala, which is the brain’s fear centre, and damage the ability of the hippocampus to learn, remember and, ironically, to deal with stress.
And the last scary thing we’ll say about cortisol in particular, is that it can lead to a literal reduction in the size of your brain – in the pre-frontal cortex in fact, which looks after judgement, decision making and social interaction.
Eek! Are you ready for Number 1?
A separate effect of a stress response in your body is that it activates your sympathetic autonomic nervous system and through this network of nerves it stimulates the enteric or intestinal nervous system. As well as creating that familiar feeling of butterflies in the stomach, this response causes havoc with our digestive system and process, often leading to irritable bowel syndrome, increasing gut sensitivity to acid, and even changing the function of the essential gut bacteria, which can in turn affect many areas of your health…
…the list is long, but it’s likely that a chronic stress response can lead to these symptoms (and this is not an exhaustive list) – headaches, hypertension, disturbed sleep, acne, hair loss, sexual dysfunction, muscle tension, concentration problems, fatigue, irritability, digestive problems, skin problems, memory deterioration.
Yes, stress is a primary cause of many symptoms, illnesses and diseases. The stress response, when exhibited over time, and not just in the case of true emergencies, is very harmful for us.
So, what can you do about it? In an upcoming blog post, we’ll talk about the top 3 ways you can work with stress in your life to reduce your harmful stress response. And it’s good news – there’s lots you can do.
So the last thing you need to do now is worry and be more stressed.
But it is worth knowing what the stress response can do to you, over time.