Physical Effects of Stress
Your brain is hard-wired to protect you from danger. In today’s world, you can get a full-blown stress response when there is no danger present and this can affect your physical health.
Long-term exposure to your body’s stress response may lead to:
- A weakened immune system
- Heart problems
- Digestive problems
Hardwired to protect – your autonomic nervous system
It is your nervous system that responds to a threat. This response comes from a primitive part of your brain – it is instinctual, without any thought or decision making on your part.
If your life is in danger and this activates, it will serve you well.
It will stop all the things that will slow you down – your digestion will come to halt and you will have increased energy and be more alert to what is going on. Once the danger has passed, you will relax.
Occasional and appropriate activation of the stress response is fine. However, many people feel the effects of stress on a daily basis and this may compromise your health.
It is no longer bears and tigers that pose a threat to us. Our “threats” are deadlines, too much work, not enough money, no social support, cooking dinner, internal pressure coming from the “self-talk” in your head.
These normal day to day events, for some people, may get matched up as a threat. Which suggests, that when you encounter these routine aspects of your day, you get a stress response.
You could be stuck in traffic and late for work and feel anger at the traffic, the other people in their cars. Your nervous system responds to this “threat” by shutting down your digestion, increasing your heart rate and raising your blood pressure.
By the time you get to work, your stomach hurts and your heart is pounding. If this keeps going, you experience chronic stress and may put your health at risk.
Feeling the stress response over daily activities may mean high blood pressure on a regular basis. People with high blood pressure may be at more risk for heart disease.
Chronic stress means that your digestive system is slowed down on a regular basis leading to a host of gastrointestinal problems.
Weakened immune system
The immune system finds it more difficult to work properly. Autoimmune disorders can be made worse by repeated stress.
Your muscles will start to ache and become tense, tight and painful.
To be healthy, your body should be self-regulating. Stress when you really need it, and relaxation when you do not. It may be that you do not know how to respond to the day to day stress in a way that is helpful to you.
People who are at risk of feeling the effects of chronic stress are those that either do not recognize that they are stressed, or do not take steps to do something about it.