What is Stress
Stress is an unavoidable reality of life. It is the feeling of being overwhelmed and struggling to cope. More specifically, stress is the brain and body’s physical and emotional response to an environmental threat. That physical and emotional response that is triggered is the fight-or-flight response.
Stress can happen as a result of one single event or reoccurring situations. Stress is not always bad. Stress can be good because it helps increase our awareness of dangerous situations. The fight-or-flight response allows us to respond quickly and protect ourselves. It isn’t until stress becomes chronic that our health is in jeopardy.
Stress Response in the Brain and Body
Stress causes a chain reaction from the brain to the rest of the body. When an event is perceived as stressful, the brain becomes very alert and starts sending distress signals to other parts of the body. Those signals tell the body to release the hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. These hormones are what create the body’s stress response:
-Five senses to be heightened
-Increase in heart rate
-Spike in blood pressure
-More rapid breathing
-Pupils to dilate (to become more aware of your surroundings)
Once the threat passes, cortisol levels decrease, and the body returns to a more balanced state. It is normal for this to happen occasionally, but it becomes unhealthy when it happens more frequently.
Impact of Chronic Stress
Chronic stress is unhealthy because the long-term release of cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine damages the brain, wears down the body, and leads to severe health concerns. Some of the physical, emotional, and mental health concerns are:
-Shrinking of the prefrontal cortex in the brain, which leads to memory loss
-Increases the size of the amygdala, which makes the brain more susceptible to stress
-Back pain, muscle tension
-Exhaustion and decreased energy
-Migraines, tension headaches
-Increase in blood pressure
-Changes in appetite
-Increased heart rate over time
-Decreased sex drive
-Trouble having sex
-Weakened immune system
-Increased blood sugar
As you can see, stress takes an emotional, physical, and mental toll. The list above identifies many of the adverse effects of stress. I believe it is essential to recognize your signs and how it affects your life. Once you know how you experience it, you can identify when it is happening, then once you know how and when you can learn how to manage the stress.