Thursday, March 16, 2023

What Can Chronic Stress Do To Your Body

What Are Some Ways To Prevent Stress

How stress affects your body – Sharon Horesh Bergquist

Many daily strategies can help you keep stress at bay:

  • Try relaxation activities, such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, breathing exercises and muscle relaxation. Programs are available online, in smartphone apps, and at many gyms and community centers.
  • Take good care of your body each day. Eating right, exercising and getting enough sleep help your body handle stress much better.
  • Stay positive and practice gratitude, acknowledging the good parts of your day or life.
  • Accept that you cant control everything. Find ways to let go of worry about situations you cannot change.
  • Learn to say no to additional responsibilities when you are too busy or stressed.
  • Stay connected with people who keep you calm, make you happy, provide emotional support and help you with practical things. A friend, family member or neighbor can become a good listener or share responsibilities so that stress doesnt become overwhelming.

What Are Some Symptoms Of Stress

Stress affects everyone differently. Some ways that chronic or long-term stress affects women include:

  • Pain, including back pain
  • Acne and other skin problems, like rashes or hives
  • Headaches
  • Feeling like you have no control
  • Forgetfulness
  • Overeating or not eating enough
  • Being easily angered
  • Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
  • Less interest in sex than usual

Plasticity And The Brain: The Bodys Recovery System

Plasticity, or neuroplasticity, refers to the ways that neural pathways are able to re-form in the brain. Its true that these pathways like the one between the hippocampus and the amygdala can get severely damaged due to constant exposure to stress, but such changes are not necessarily permanent. While stress can negatively affect the brain, the brain and body can recover.

Young adults, especially, are able to recover from the effects of stress, according to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences . Age has a direct correlation with the reversibility of stress-related damage. Its much more difficult for older adults to regain or create new neural pathways than their younger counterparts.

Thats not to say all hope is lost for older adults. PNAS points out that interventions, or activities that combat stress wear-and-tear on the brain, are effective regardless of age. Interventions including activities like exercising regularly, socializing and finding purpose in life enable plasticity.

It can seem like stress is an inevitable part of life, but chronic stress can have real and significant consequences on the brain. Understanding these effects and how to combat them can help promote overall health.

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Respiratory And Cardiovascular Systems

Stress hormones affect your respiratory and cardiovascular systems. During the stress response, you breathe faster in an effort to quickly distribute oxygen-rich blood to your body. If you already have a breathing problem like asthma or emphysema, stress can make it even harder to breathe.

Under stress, your heart also pumps faster. Stress hormones cause your blood vessels to constrict and divert more oxygen to your muscles so youll have more strength to take action. But this also raises your blood pressure.

As a result, frequent or chronic stress will make your heart work too hard for too long. When your blood pressure rises, so do your risks for having a stroke or heart attack.

How Stress Affects Your Body From Your Brain To Your Digestive System

A Life without Anorexia: stress less

Its one thing to feel occasional stress. But when youre constantly under pressure and have no way to cope, your risk of developing serious illness climbs. Heres what you need to know about the long-term effects of living a stressed-out life.

If youve ever felt stressed out , you already know that being under pressure can affect your body, either by causing a headache, muscle tightness, or flutters in your chest making you feel down in the dumps or leaving you ravenous for chocolate or robbed of all appetite.

But these stress symptoms are merely the signals of the deeper impact that chronic stress can have on every organ and system in your body, from your nervous and circulatory systems to your digestive and immune systems.

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And It’s Not Great For Your Heart

During acute episodes of stress, the body is flooded with adrenaline, which increases heart rate and blood pressure. In cases of extreme stress, you can even experience a condition known as “broken heart syndrome” it feels exactly like a heart attack.

Kahn told Insider that long-term stress can negatively affect your heart health, too, though the reason why isn’t totally clear. We don’t know whether stress itself raises the risk for problems like heart disease, or whether stress simply leads to non-heart-healthy habits, like smoking.

Experts still can’t say for sure if stress independently affects your heart health, or if the ways you cope with stress, whether that’s through a poor diet or a cigarette, can cause a heart condition. But both the American Heart Association and the US National Library of Medicine both agree that managing stress is a good thing for your heart.

What Is Stress And How Does It Affect Our Brains And Bodies

Stress is our reaction to a threatening event or stimulus. Such events and stimuli are called stressors. People perceive and react to stressors differently. Something one person would rate as highly stressful might be rated as considerably less stressful by someone else. These responses are affected by such factors as genetics and life experiences.

Stress can be classified as positive, tolerable or toxic. Toxic stress occurs when we are faced with a continuous stressor or triggered by multiple sources and can have a cumulative toll on our physical and mental health. It is an experience that overwhelms us and leaves us feeling powerless and hopeless.

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How Does Chronic Stress Affect Your Body

We all constantly feel stress from family, work, illness and whatever circumstances life decides to throw at us next. But stress can be a good thing when it happens in short doses.

In great times of need, cortisol, our main stress hormone, becomes the body’s No. 1 sidekick getting us ready to respond in a fight-or-flight situation. Adrenaline, another hormone activated by stress, gets our hearts pumping and our blood pressure up, causes our muscles tense and keeps our minds hyperfocused on the task at hand just ask people who swear that they do their best work at the last minute.

But too much of a good thing is not good for our bodies in the long run. Chronic stress significantly increases risks for heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases. It also can cause problems, such as tension headaches, sexual dysfunction and hair loss. It can also have a devastating impact on your mental health.

In the infographic below, find out 13 ways stress affects your body:

When You’re Stressed You Make Worse Food Choices

How stress affects your brain – Madhumita Murgia

“People that are stressed may use food as a comfort,” Kahn, clinical professor of medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine, told Insider. “You don’t usually munch on broccoli when you’re stressed. You’re usually grabbing for a doughnut and chips.”

While not everyone stress-eats, stress leads to a fight-or-flight response in most people, which can release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which increases appetite. Persisting stress can lead to elevated cortisol levels, according to Harvard Health Publishing. When a stressful event events, cortisol levels should decrease. But for people stuck in a cycle of stress, cortisol levels may remain elevated and people may still feel an urge to eat sugary, fatty snacks.

One landmark 2007 study found that people with higher cortisol levels were more likely to snack in response to stress.

Women are more likely to stress-eat than men. One 2014 study found that stress-eating was more common in girls than boys. The American Psychological Association found that women are more likely than men to report stress-eating, with 31% of women reporting eating during tumultuous times versus 21% of men.

Geyer also noted that stress can also mess with leptin and ghrelin two hormones that regulate our desire for food spurring us to eat more.

Still, there’s a heap of evidence showing a workout might make you feel better.

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Q: How Does Stress Affect The Heart

Dr. Sinha: In the movies, people who are under intense stress often seem to dramatically keel over from a heart attack, but thats extremely rare. The real danger is the accumulated impact of chronic stress, which contributes to each of the top five risk factors for developing heart disease: abnormal cholesterol levels, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and smoking.

How Do Tension And Stress Affect The Body

Under stress, your heart also pumps faster. Stress hormones cause your blood vessels to constrict and divert more oxygen to your muscles so youll have more strength to take action. But this also raises your blood pressure. As a result, frequent or chronic stress will make your heart work too hard for too long.

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Video: How Stress Affects Your Brain

When we encounter a stressor, our brain and body respond by triggering a series of chemical reactions that prepare us to engage with or run away from the stressor. Two hormones that we release are adrenaline, which prepares muscles for exertion, and cortisol, which regulates bodily functions. If a stressor is exceptionally frightening, it might cause us to freeze and become incapacitated . The stress response triggered by these two hormones causes our:

  • Blood pressure to rise
  • Digestive system to slow down
  • Blood to clot more quickly

Thousands of years ago, people who stumbled upon a hungry saber-toothed tiger or other predator would be more likely to survive the encounter if they were able to spring up and sprint away swiftly. An increase in blood pressure and heart rate and a slowdown of digestive processes meant more energy could be directed toward escaping. If they couldnt run quickly enough, their odds of surviving a wound from the hungry tiger were better if their blood clotted rapidly.

Today, this physical response to stress, if unrelieved, can be damaging to our health. Unrelieved stress is a known risk factor in many of the leading causes of premature death among adults, including conditions and illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and a poorly functioning immune system . Chronic stress is also a potential risk factor for depression, addiction, and suicide .

Stress Shrinks The Brain

The Dangerous Effects of Stress

Even among otherwise healthy people, stress can lead to shrinkage in areas of the brain associated with the regulation of emotions, metabolism, and memory.

While people often associate negative outcomes to sudden, intense stress created by life-altering events , researchers actually suggest that it is the everyday stress that we all seem to face that, over time, can contribute to a wide range of mental disorders.

In one study, researchers from Yale University looked at 100 healthy participants who provided information about the stressful events in their lives. The researchers observed that exposure to stress, even very recent stress, led smaller gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain linked to such things as self-control and emotions.

Chronic, everyday stress appeared to have little impact on brain volume on its own but may make people more vulnerable to brain shrinkage when they are faced with intense, traumatic stressors.

The accumulation of stressful life events may make it more challenging for these individuals to deal with future stress, particularly if the next demanding event requires effortful control, emotion regulation, or integrated social processing to overcome it, explained the studys lead author, Emily Ansell.

Different kinds of stress affect the brain in different ways. Recent stressful events affect emotional awareness. Traumatic events have a greater impact on mood centers.

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The Parasympathetic Nervous System: Your Rest And Digest Response

Once the threat has passed, your parasympathetic nervous system, sometimes called the rest and digest response, kicks in. This is the second branch of your autonomic nervous system, and it functions as a mirror to the sympathetic branch.

Where the sympathetic system is preparing you for a threat, the parasympathetic is calming you down, Schindler says.

This occurs in part through a negative feedback system. When your body releases cortisol, it also initiates a feedback loop that prevents you from continuing to release additional cortisol. Without the additional stress hormones, your parasympathetic system is able to calm your body down when the threat subsides, allowing your heart rate to slow and returning your body to its baseline state.

Serious Ways Stress Can Do Damage To Your Body

Believe it or not, stress can do the body good. In a potentially dangerous or pressure-filled situation, it is stress and the host of hormones that accompany it that help you power through. Of course, excessive stress is far from beneficial. Over a prolonged period, stress can take a major toll on your mind and body, according to Healthline.

Yes, chronic stress can lead to all sorts of mental and physical health ailments, from depression to hypertension to high blood sugar to infertility. This is why it is so important to manage your stress level, find productive coping mechanisms, and face life’s many pressures with flexibility. And if that doesn’t work? Seek professional help because stress is a normal part of life, but it shouldn’t dominate your days and impact your health and well-being. Want to know what stress is really doing to you on the inside and out? Here are some ways it is seriously damaging your body plus a few tips to help stop it in its tracks.

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What Are The Symptoms Of Stress

Stress can affect all aspects of your life, including your emotions, behaviors, thinking ability, and physical health. No part of the body is immune. But, because people handle stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary. Symptoms can be vague and may be the same as those caused by medical conditions. So it is important to discuss them with your doctor. You may experience any of the following symptoms of stress.

Emotional symptoms of stress include:

  • Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody
  • Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control
  • Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
  • Feeling bad about yourself , lonely, worthless, and depressed
  • Avoiding others

Physical symptoms of stress include:

  • Low energy

Central Nervous And Endocrine Systems

How Stress Affects Your Body and How You Can Reduce Stress | Featuring Methodically Maya

Your central nervous system is in charge of your fight or flight response. In your brain, the hypothalamus gets the ball rolling, telling your adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones rev up your heartbeat 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 should tell all systems to go back to normal. If the CNS fails to return to normal, or if the stressor doesnt go away, the response will continue.

Chronic stress is also a factor in behaviors such as overeating or not eating enough, alcohol or drug abuse, and social withdrawal.

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Is Covid Increasing Rates Of Chronic Stress

You can see from the list above describing common causes of chronic stress that many are now more prevalent due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

People of all ages are being affected by changes in their work routine, schooling, family life and community involvement.

Even before the Covid-19 crisis began, a high percentage of Americans were already worrying about money, job security, and the political climate in the U.S. We can assume these worries are only intensifying due to the pandemic, and are now suddenly coupled with other concerns such as persistent racial injustice.

In 2017, the American Psychological Association focused on the Most Common Sources of Stress. They found that:

  • 63% worry about the future of our nation
  • 62% worry about money
  • 57% worry about the political climate
  • 51% worry about violence and crime

According to some research, two of the biggest drivers of suicidal thoughts and attempts are job loss and social isolation. Amid the Covid pandemic, millions of people are facing unemployment, financial hardship and loneliness on a level never experienced before.

During an acute/short-term crisis, your actions normally wind end up reversing many of the stress-related processes described above. You essentially either fight or flee and resolve the problem then take comfort in contact with loved ones or satisfaction in your abilities. You might dispel adrenaline through pacing or some other soothing effort to restore balance.

Flatulence Bloating And A Lot Of Peeing

Bergquist says the gut-brain communication that takes place during stress can sometimes lead to an imbalance of gut flora, which for some people leads to bloating or flatulence.

The intestines have their own nervous system called the enteric nervous system that connects to the brain. The intestines can spasm when a person feels stress, and with that can come diarrhea, constipation, or flatulence its different for every individual, Bergquist says.

The fight-or-flight phenomenon causes all the bodys systems to ramp up to help a person escape. Lin says some people experience the urge to pee more frequently when theyre in a chronic state of stress. During fear or anxiety, stress causes us to physically dump so we can move faster, she says.

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What Is Chronic Stress And How Is It Different From More Acute Stress

If you think you’re suffering from chronic stress, it can be helpful to consider how long the stress has been a part of your life. “With chronic stress, we’re usually talking about a stressor that’s persisting over weeks months, rather than days,” Amanda Spray, PhD, a psychologist at NYU Langone, tells Health. It’s helpful to think of it as an underlying worrysomething that sits just below the surface but can intensify when triggered.

Acute stress, on the other hand, is stress that hits you fast and goes away quickly, like when you are forced to slam on your brakes while driving, or get bad news that immediately elicits the feeling that your stomach just dropped.

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