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.
Where Might I Spot The Physical Signs Of Stress
The immune systemStress initially inhibits the immune system the chemicals our body releases to deal with immediate threat arent designed to keep us healthy long-term. People affected by chronic stress can find their immune system affected, making them susceptible to colds, flu and other infections.
The liverOur liver gives us a boost of glucose when were stressed, enabling us to physically respond to stressors. Long-term, this constant release increases our risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and can make it hard for us to maintain a healthy weight.
DigestionOur guts are surprisingly sensitive organs, and respond to hormone imbalances, stress, and many physical and mental health conditions with pain, bloating, and sometimes changes in bowel habit.
Nervous systemChronic stress affects dopamine levels, which is one of the reasons long-term stress makes us more vulnerable to mental illness. It can particularly make us seek short-term rewards like sugary, fatty or salty foods, affecting our weight and overall health.
SkinEven our skin responds to stress, with inflammation and worsening of skin conditions like acne, eczema and psoriasis.
HeadachesThe release of stress hormones can cause changes in the blood vessels around the brain, causing tension headaches and migraines.
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.
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Improving Your Ability To Handle Stress
Get moving. Upping your activity level is one tactic you can employ right now to help relieve stress and start to feel better. Regular exercise can lift your mood and serve as a distraction from worries, allowing you to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed stress. Rhythmic exercises such as walking, running, swimming, and dancing are particularly effective, especially if you exercise mindfully .
Connect to others. The simple act of talking face-to-face with another human can trigger hormones that relieve stress when youre feeling agitated or insecure. Even just a brief exchange of kind words or a friendly look from another human being can help calm and soothe your nervous system. So, spend time with people who improve your mood and dont let your responsibilities keep you from having a social life. If you dont have any close relationships, or your relationships are the source of your stress, make it a priority to build stronger and more satisfying connections.
Engage your senses. Another fast way to relieve stress is by engaging one or more of your sensessight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movement. The key is to find the sensory input that works for you. Does listening to an uplifting song make you feel calm? Or smelling ground coffee? Or maybe petting an animal works quickly to make you feel centered? Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so experiment to find what works best for you.
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Things Stress Can Do Your Body: Digestive System
Do you feel butterflies in your stomach when you are under stress or anxiety? Or maybe you find it difficult to hold your food- or bowels during stressful periods?
This is directly the result of stress hormones.
In short, the stomach produces more acid under stress, which either helps speed digestion or acid reflux and heartburn.
This is why stomach ulcers are more frequent in women who are under high stress on a longer term basis.
Also, in the intestines, since food seems to move faster than usual, nutrient deficiencies can occur, along with diarrhea.
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Stress And Your Health
Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension. It can come from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous.
Stress is your body’s reaction to a challenge or demand. In short bursts, stress can be positive, such as when it helps you avoid danger or meet a deadline. But when stress lasts for a long time, it may harm your health.
Stress Can Exacerbate Skin Problems Including Acne
It’s no surprise that stress can negatively affect the largest organ in your body your skin. Researchers have identified a number of conditions aren’t necessarily caused by stress but can be made worse by it. That list includes acne, psoriasis, rosacea, alopecia, and eczema, too.
“It is very common for people to experience breakouts when stressed,” dermatologist Marisa Garshick previously told Insider. “Your body releases stress hormones including cortisol, which may increase the skin’s oil production, making you prone to breakouts.”
Increasec cortisol can also break down collagen and decrease synthesis of hyaluronic acid, Garshick said, adding that this loss of collagen and hyaluronic acid “can lead to fine lines and wrinkles over time,” and even premature aging.
When you’re stressed, research finds it can take your skin longer than usual to heal up wounds.
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The Good News About Stress
Not all stress is bad, and the hormones that the body produces in response to stress aren’t, either. Their levels actually fluctuate throughout the day as you adapt to challenges such as waking up , getting stuck in traffic, or being surprised for your birthday.
Its also possible to manage stress by doing small things like deep breathing, taking a walk, listening to a meditation app, or even grabbing your childs fidget spinner to distract yourself from whatevers stressing you out. Any of these strategies can help short-circuit the bodys fight-or-flight response, stopping the flood of stress hormones from revving up your blood pressure and heart rate.
Q: What Happens Physically During Times Of Stress
Dr. Sinha: The stress response system was originally designed to keep people safe from environmental threats like hungry predators. Your bodys modern-day stress response is identical to that of your ancestors, preparing the body for a battle or a quick getaway, the classic fight or flight response.
The body experiences a cascade of physical reactions, including:
- An accelerated heartbeat.
- Opening of lung airways to improve oxygen delivery.
- Release of adrenaline to speed you up.
- Release of glucose to power muscles.
- Widened pupils to improve vision.
- Lowered gastrointestinal activity so you can run, not digest.
For your ancestors, stress response activation was key to survival:
- Tight blood vessels prevented excessive bleeding.
- Elevated blood sugar gave energy to flee or fight.
- Stored belly fat provided extra calories needed during times of scarcity.
- Increased pulse and breathing maintained alertness during a crisis.
- Tensed muscles served as a shield to protect vital organs.
Today, you rarely face a situation where you truly need to fight or flee. But your body still initiates the stress response in situations where there are no options for fighting or escaping: a traffic jam, a disagreeable boss or coworker, a looming deadline.
In the modern, sedentary person, the same physiological stress responses your ancestors needed lead instead to high blood pressure, diabetes, central body obesity, palpitations and anxiety, and muscle tension and pain.
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Biological Need For Equilibrium
Homeostasis is a concept central to the idea of stress. In biology, most biochemical processes strive to maintain equilibrium , a steady state that exists more as an ideal and less as an achievable condition. Environmental factors, internal or external stimuli, continually disrupt homeostasis an organism’s present condition is a state of constant flux moving about a homeostatic point that is that organism’s optimal condition for living. Factors causing an organism’s condition to diverge too far from homeostasis can be experienced as stress. A life-threatening situation such as a major physical trauma or prolonged starvation can greatly disrupt homeostasis. On the other hand, an organism’s attempt at restoring conditions back to or near homeostasis, often consuming energy and natural resources, can also be interpreted as stress.
The ambiguity in defining this phenomenon was first recognized by Hans Selye in 1926. In 1951 a commentator loosely summarized Selye’s view of stress as something that “…in addition to being itself, was also the cause of itself, and the result of itself”.
Things Stress Can Do Your Body: Endocrine Glands
Endocrine glands are those body parts that produce hormones. In short, those hormones are deposited into the bodys blood stream.
These include the adrenal glands, the liver and pancreas for example.
The adrenal glands are forced to produce more cortisol and adrenalin- the two key stress hormones.
In response to this, the liver may begin releasing stored glycogen in the form of glucose, to tend to your seemingly agitated state.
Similarly, the pancreas may also begin producing more insulin.
If the stressful situation resolves, everything goes back to normal. However, if the stressful event continues day in and day out, your body continues to break down!
Furthermore, stress is very bad for diabetics, pre-diabetics or anyone who has sensitivity issues to glucose.
For that group, not all that circulating sugar goes back into storage, and instead is free to pick trouble.
Now that you know what stress can do to your body, are you ready to take action to reduce the stress in your life?
You cant get rid of stress by just reading about it! Effective stress management requires ACTION!
Here are two easy action steps you can take right now to reduce stress:
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Shoulders Head And Jaw
The effects of stress in your body can move through the tension triangle, which includes your shoulders, head and jaw.
Stress can trigger tension headaches, tightness in the neck and jaw, and knots and spasms in your neck and shoulders, says Dr. Lang. It also may contribute to TMJ, a jaw disorder.
Ask your doctor about remedies such as stress management, counseling or anxiety-reducing medicine.
The Hpa Axis: Your Second Wind
When the initial boost from your sympathetic nervous system subsides, your hypothalamus triggers a second system in your stress response: the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
The HPA axis is similar to the sympathetic nervous system. It starts with your brain releasing hormones into your circulatory system, Schindler says.
In this case, cortisol is the hormone released into your body. The additional hormones keep your sympathetic nervous system engaged and your body on high alert.
These systems are working together. A lot of signaling molecules in the sympathetic nervous system are interacting with the HPA axis. So, its a concert of signaling that is going on, all working toward the same goal, just in different ways, Schindler says.
As the cortisol floods your system, your metabolism slows down and your immune function increases, helping to protect you from infection and heal any injuries. Cortisol, combined with adrenaline, releases stored fat and sugar in your body to give you a burst of energy.
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How Your Body Responds To Acute Stress
Stress in general is proadaptive, its supposed to help you, says Abigail Schindler, an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Medicines Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
Schindler explains that your bodys response to acute stress, or short-term stress, enables you to handle difficult or dangerous situations. Once the threat has passed, your body returns to a state of balance, called homeostasis.
Various factors, like genetics, personal history and environment, can cause you to perceive a situation as threatening or stressful. Once identified, a stressor activates multiple systems in your body.
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
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Ways Stress Can Affect The Body
Picture this: Youre powering through the work day when all of a sudden youre asked to join your manager for a quick meeting. Your palms begin to sweat. Your heart races. Your body says, Get ready.
Sound familiar? When youre faced with a stressful situation, your hypothalamus, a region of the brain that links the nervous system to the endocrine system via the pituitary gland, responds by sending out stress hormones. This response is designed to quickly prepare your body to react to an emergency. However, when this stress response fires continuously throughout the day, it can put your overall health and wellbeing at risk.
Since April is Stress Awareness Month, we decided to dig into the 6 ways stress can affect different systems of the body.
How To Reduce Stress Levels
Some of the stressors in our lives are things that we can take some practical control over some of them are not. When we cant take away the thing thats causing us stress, we need to find ways of responding to that stress without becoming unwell. Some good ways to reduce stress can include:
Sleep wellGetting enough sleep and sticking to regular hours can make a huge difference to how well we cope with everyday stress. Remember that stimulants like late-night screen time, alcohol, big meals and nicotine can stop us getting to sleep. Caffeine can still affect us around 6 hours after drinking it, so cut out the coffee early in the afternoon.
Stay in touchEven when you dont feel like it, trying to maintain your social life is important. It might even help to talk to friends and family about whats going on in your life, but if youre not comfortable with that, just socialising with them can help you feel more positive.
Eat wellOne of the best things we can do for our physical and mental health is to eat a healthy diet. This means lots of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, and lean proteins.
MeditateBreathing exercises and mindfulness techniques have become popular stress-management strategies over the last few years, and theyre supported by good clinical evidence.
Get outsideEven a little bit of time outdoors can energise us, help us maintain a good sleep pattern, and improve our mental and physical health. Exercise is particularly good for stress relief.
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Stress And Your Muscles
Stress makes you tense up. That’s good if you’re facing down an angry predator. But if it persists, muscle tension causes several problems. Tension headaches and migraines can result, for instance. Tense muscles can provoke more serious anxiety disorders, too.
How you respond to stress could help determine how swiftly you recover from injury as well. If you become excessively fearful of reinjuring yourself, this can leave you in a state of chronic pain. Your muscles will seldom relax if you continue to feel fearful. This persistent tension can also lead to muscle atrophy, as it is difficult to move when you are intensely bound up by your own muscles. This is a problem that can get worse, as exercise is one of the most reliable means of relieving stress.
Stress Hormones And Strokes
Stress hormones can also affect your respiratory and cardiovascular systems. As those stress hormones are firing, you may find yourself breathing faster to quickly distribute oxygen-rich blood to your body.
If you have a breathing issue, like asthma or emphysema, the stress response can make it more challenging to breathe.
During the stress response, your heart also pumps faster. Adrenaline and cortisol cause your blood vessels to constrict and send more oxygen to your muscles for strength to take action.
This raises your blood pressure and can result in chronic stress that makes your heart work too hard over a long period of time. This may increase your risk for having a stroke or heart attack.
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Etymology And Historical Usage
The term “stress” had none of its contemporary connotations before the 1920s. It is a form of the Middle Englishdestresse, derived via Old French from the Latinstringere, “to draw tight”. The word had long been in use in physics to refer to the internal distribution of a force exerted on a material body, resulting in strain. In the 1920s and ’30s, biological and psychological circles occasionally used the term to refer to a mental strain or to a harmful environmental agent that could cause illness.
Walter Cannon used it in 1926 to refer to external factors that disrupted what he called homeostasis. But “…stress as an explanation of lived experience is absent from both lay and expert life narratives before the 1930s”. Physiological stress represents a wide range of physical responses that occur as a direct effect of a stressor causing an upset in the homeostasis of the body. Upon immediate disruption of either psychological or physical equilibrium the body responds by stimulating the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. The reaction of these systems causes a number of physical changes that have both short- and long-term effects on the body.
The Holmes and Rahe stress scale was developed as a method of assessing the risk of disease from life changes. The scale lists both positive and negative changes that elicit stress. These include things such as a major holiday or marriage, or death of a spouse and firing from a job.