Health Effects of Stress

In recent years, research into the link between the mind, brain and immune system has clearly shown the negative health effects of stress.   Stress is a physical reaction to a situation seen as threatening, and is also known as the fight-or-flight response.

The Effects of Stress On The Body

The stress response arises because danger causes part of the brain known as the hypothalamus to release substances called neuropeptides.  These travel throughout the body  causing other areas to release certain substances that attach like keys into locks on the membrane covering each cell.  This causes the cell to react in a way that prepares the body to fight or flee.  Once the danger is over the body returns to its normal state.

When humans were evolving and were regularly faced with the dangers of sabre-toothed tigers or other fearsome creatures, the stress response was short-lived.  Man was either eaten by the tiger or ran to safety where the stress response soon subsided.

Nowadays there are no longer any sabre-toothed tigers around, but psychological stresses have become our tigers and stimulate the same physical response that sabre-tooths once did.   Every workday we may be faced with the boss we cannot please, our chronically-angry spouse, and many small stressful incidents.  Generally we cannot get rid of the stressor by physically fighting or fleeing, so we react and then stay in a state of arousal that affects  normal body function and is ultimately damaging to our health.

Stressed Businessman

The  Health Effects of Stress

Stress affects health in several ways. It lowers the immune system and bathes cells in the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol. In the long-term these can be toxic, and contribute to high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and symptoms of pain, fatigue, and  bowel disturbances.

Apparently the most disturbing psychological events are those that are seen as involving uncertainty, lack of information or loss of control.  Different people see things differently, so what is stressful to one person may not be stressful to another.

The most damaging health effects are from childhood stress that may arise when parents are physically or emotionally absent, or the child is subjected to some type of abuse.  Adults who have had stressful childhoods are more likely to suffer from chronic disease.

Photo by: jenny.morros
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