How stress affects your health: the stress response
When your body senses a threat, your nervous system responds by releasing stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These stress hormones activate your fight-or-flight-or-freeze response and affect your body in several ways:
- Your heart rate and breathing increase
- Your blood pressure rises
- Your muscles tighten
- Your senses become sharper
- Your breath quickens
In small doses, stress can help you perform under pressure. However, constant stress over longer periods of time keeps the cortisol levels high and can lead to emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms. Too much cortisol flooding a body’s cells can lessen the cells’ ability to protect themselves from disease, lengthen healing time of injuries, and impair mental reasoning.
What causes stress?
Anything that puts high demands on you can be stressful, whether you think of it as negative (such as an unreasonable work schedule) or positive (such as buying a house). Stress can’t be avoided. The important thing is to recognize when your stress levels are too high. Stress can creep up on you and eventually begin to feel normal. This is when it can do damage to your health.
Each of us handles stressors differently. One person may be terrified to speak in front of a group, and another may love the spotlight. Some thrive when the pressure is on and deadlines are approaching, and others become frozen and overwhelmed.
Common causes of stress are:
|External Stressors||Internal Stressors|
|Major life changes||Chronic worry|
|Work or school demands||All-or-nothing attitude|
|Financial issues||Negative self-talk|
|Children and family issues||Unrealistic expectations|
|Being too busy||Lack of flexibility in thinking|
Below are some common signs of stress that you might recognize.
|Getting headaches often||Extreme anxiety, worry, or guilt||Loss of interest in appearance|
|Neck or back pain or spasms||Increased anger or annoyance||Nervous habits|
|Dizziness or lightheadedness||Depression or wild mood swings||Overreacting to minor annoyances|
|Sweating or clamminess||Trouble concentrating||Increased number of minor accidents|
|Getting infections or colds often||Trouble learning new information||Obsessive or nervous behavior|
|Unexplained rashes||Forgetfulness or confusion||Reduced work productivity|
|Heartburn||Feeling overwhelmed||Lies or excuses to cover up poor work|
|Stomach pain or nausea||Crying often||Quick or mumbled speech|
|Constipation or diarrhea||Feeling alone or worthless||Extreme defensiveness|
|Sudden, life-threatening panic attacks||Increased moodiness or edginess||Problems communicating|
|Shortness of breath||Trouble making decisions||Withdrawing socially|
|Lack of sexual desire or performance||Increased smoking, drinking, or drug use|
|Increased or decreased appetite||Extreme gambling or impulse buying|
|Insomnia or nightmares||Weight gain or loss without trying|
|Feeling tired all the time|