Stress and the body

Stress may be a word we all know and feel but how much do we really know about stress?

You may know when you are stressed when you feel those unpleasant physical feelings within your body. You may be very aware of the feelings you have when you are stressed. Maybe you know you are stressed but can’t explain how it feels. This article is going to explore what stress is and how it affects our bodies.

Stress is a hormone that is released to help us! Good news right! Not when it is released for a long time…

What happens to our bodies under stress?

When we are under pressure the brain signals to release the stress hormone into our bodies. The stress hormone helps us act quickly in dangerous situations to protect ourselves. It makes us alert, gives our bodies adrenaline for energy and helps us make quick decisions.

We can then respond in three ways:

  1. Freeze: stay completely still so we don’t attract attention to ourselves
  2. Fight: fight the danger
  3. Flight: run as fast as we can away from the danger.

This surge of energy can save our lives in life threatening situations. It is a part of the amazing natural response of the body that we all have. It is automatic so we have the best chance to survive in danger. This means we can’t control it from happening or not happening.

Stress can help us to survive

Let’s take the example of waking in your bed in the middle of the night to sounds happening in another room of your house. If you live alone and are not expecting visitors you instantly feel in danger. The stress hormone is released. Your body and mind are alert and ready. You now make the decision to stay still in bed so the danger does not become aware of your presence (freeze), get up and face the danger (fight) or leave your room immediately by the window (flight). In each one of these options you body is working at optimum capacity in attempt to survive. Once you are out of danger and you feel safe the stress hormone stops releasing. When the stress hormone is released for a short amount of time it has amazing affects on your body. It can literally save your life.

Stress inhibits our productivity

But what about when the danger isn’t life threatening? What if the danger is harm to your self-esteem and self-efficacy? For example the danger is the threat of not meeting a deadline at work that will make you look incompetent in front of your boss and colleagues. The stress hormone is released in exactly the same way. The brain detects danger and releases the stress hormone. Your body is full of energy and you are making great progress but there is still the threat you won’t meet the deadline. The brain continues to detect danger and the stress hormone continues to release. The energy in your body is now distracting you from being able to work towards meeting the deadline. Even when you try to take a break from working, you are still under threat of not making that deadline and so the stress hormone is still being released. You get home and you can’t switch off. You can’t sleep that night and the next day you feel tired. The stress hormone is still being released and it becomes even harder to be productive at work to meet that deadline. Not good.

Stress is harmful to our bodies

Prolonged stress hormone has a negative affect on our body. Unfortunately in our society with the pressures on us today the stress hormone is continuously being triggered. This has detrimental effects on our bodies and mind. Below is a list of common complaints from stress:

  • Headaches and migraines
  • Eye sight is fuzzy, eyes are dry, red and tired
  • Earache
  • Spots on face or skin conditions flare up like Eczema
  • Muscles are sore and tired
  • Stiff neck and sore shoulders
  • Sore upper and lower back
  • Pins and needles in hands and feet
  • Upset digestion
  • Fast heart rate
  • Heartburn
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugars
  • Sore stomach
  • Weakened immune system
  • Cold sores
  • Thrush
  • Erectile problems
  • Fertility problems
  • Missed periods
  • Low sex drive

Good news

We can reduce the stress hormone’s affects on the body by telling our brain we are not in danger so that it stops releasing the stress hormone. Now the brain can’t be fooled. If it detects danger it will release the stress hormone. So we need to feel safe in our bodies to signal to the brain that despite being in a stressful situation we are not in danger. This is how we override the stress hormone without using drugs. Techniques in helping our bodies feel safe is for the next article which will be available in a week. Until then I hope it has been helpful to better understand stress and the body. Thanks for reading. Please like and share if you have enjoyed reading.

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