You’ve probably heard many times that stress is really bad for you, perhaps once too often even. It’s something that is constantly rammed down our throats and we’re constantly being reminded how stress can cause heart problems, cause weight gain and generally cause all manner of problems.
This is not news then. What we don’t get told so often is precisely why stress is so bad for us or what it actually does to negatively impact on our health. Read on then and we’ll look at the reasons why stress is actually such a problem and what you can do to prevent it– or at least to limit the negative consequences.
Stress and Your Physiology
The first thing to note is that stress has a profound and direct effect on your physiology. That is to say that it increases your heart rate, it increases muscle tension and it causes your blood to actually thicken. All of this is intended to make us more efficient at combat and better able to run away in order to escape danger. This is all controlled by the body releasing specific hormones – and those include dopamine, adrenaline, cortisol and glutamate among others. These are our ‘stress hormones’ (though some of them are more accurately described as neurotransmitters).
As the heart rate increases and the blood vessels dilate, more blood is sent specifically to the muscles and to the brain with the intention of enhancing focus and physical performance.
This is great news again for fighting and for getting away from danger. But what it also means is that blood is being directed away from your other systems – away from your immune system for example and away from your digestion. When you’re being chased by a lion, or falling off a mountain, those things just don’t really matter quite so much!
The Long Term Problem
The problem then comes when this is allowed to continue over a longer period of time. In the wild, chronic stress didn’t really exist: we wouldn’t have to worry about things like debt or having a mean boss!
And when stress doesn’t go away, that means that your immune system and your digestion never get the attention they need. This is why you can end up getting heartburn or becoming ill when you’re constantly stressed.
Meanwhile, your body is consistently releasing adrenaline and your heartrate is consistently beating hard. Eventually this can become a problem as well as you become more and more likely to suffer a heart attack. And remember, your blood pressure has also gone up – making you significantly more likely to experience very high blood pressure.
Likewise, this prolonged state of arousal can lead to a number of other issues. For instance, the heart working this hard for this long can potentially put a lot of strain on you and maybe even lead to a heart attack. Likewise, the constant secretion of adrenaline can eventually lead to ‘adrenal fatigue’. At this point, the body has exhausted its supply of adrenaline, leaving you exhausted and potentially even depressed.
So, as you see, even though we experience stress factors that are very different than those our ancestors encountered the physiological effect is actually very similar.
So unless you eventually want to start behaving like a cave man (or woman) it is definitely a good idea to learn a few tricks on how to calm your mind and thereby reduce the stress levels in your entire body.