How Stress Affects Your Body
Picture this: It’s a work day, just like any other day. As soon as you wake up, swing your legs over the side of the bed, your stress begins. You start by standing up on a LEGO (ouch!!). How it got in your room, you’ve no idea. Next your tooth brush falls on the floor, butter side down. The next 10 minutes are spent de-grossifying it. It doesn’t get better from there. You’re out of milk; no breakfast. You’re out of gas in your car; have to take the bus. You get to work and your boss is in one of her moods. Now the rest of your shift is touch and go. Ride the bus home, have a mediocre dinner, go to bed late, and start it all over again.
After all that, your stress levels have reached Mach 5. And you feel like horrible. You may think this example is a huge exaggeration, but many of us spend our days dealing with one little stress after another, just like in the example.
One thing that is guaranteed in life is that at some point in your life, you are going to encounter stress. It’s just how it goes. If you are a lucky duck, like me, and naturally already a high strung individual it makes you even MORE likely to encounter stress each and every single day.
I always joke, that I’m a stress magnet. That somehow someway stress is going to find me, and that sort of makes me an expert on how stress affects the body (and your life for that flippin’ matter).
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Now true or false: That stress only affects your emotions. False. Stress can and will affect your entire body. It affects you physically, mentally, emotionally, and behaviorally. It can cause all of these issues:
- Lowered sex drive
- Reduced mental faculties
- Muscle pain
- Lowered immunity
- Hair loss
- Acute anxiety
- Digestive disorders
And many other issues that vary in severity. Forty-five percent of adults suffer injurious health effects from stress, such as the ones mentioned above. Also, 75 to 90 percent of all doctor visits pertain to stress-related ailments. Is that persistent tension in your neck still bothering you? Are you still waking up irritable? A lot of stress might be the cause.
Any time I think about how stress affects the body, I think of my first job at a mortgage company. When I lived in California, I worked for a company called Beneficial. I LOVED MY JOB. It was the best thing since sliced bread, but within the first sixty days of my job that all went south!
Brand spanking new on the job, slowly but surely I began to hear whispers that our manager was leaving the company. This was heart breaking news because it was his enthusiasm that sold me on the position. While this may not sound like a stressful situation, just follow along with me for a few more lines.
After my manager left, there were four of us left in the office. Then wind came around that the front desk lady was leaving. Now that count was down to three. Within two more weeks, the other two sales representatives have given there notice, and yup, that left little ole me to run the ENTIRE office.
It’s a wonder I didn’t just throw my arms up in the arm and exclaim, “SCREW THIS! I QUIT!” but me being me, I hung in there. I was literally by myself in that office for TWO WHOLE WEEKS. I barely knew how to unlock the office without setting off the security system let alone run the whole office by myself!
Even now thinking about that time in my life, my breathing becomes shallow, my back muscles start to tense up like a Celtic knot. My WHOLE body was affected by the stress of that time! It was crazy!
Now, whether the stress components in your life are big or small, real or imaginary, your body reacts the same way. From sun up to sun down, many people can attest to experiencing several stressors a day. Each stress reaction produces 1,400 biochemical events in your body, which is a negative chain reaction on the molecular level. If you suffer from, let’s say, 50 medium-sized stressors every day, your body gets attacked by a battalion of 70,000 biochemical warriors that don’t quit.
Additionally, when you experience acute stress, the adrenal glands produce adrenaline and cortisol, the “stress hormone.” That hormone regulates the changes to the body brought on by stress:
- Blood sugar levels
- Fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism to maintain blood glucose
- Anti-inflammatory actions
- Blood pressure
- Heart and blood vessel tone and contraction
- Central nervous system activation
So when those biochemical warriors go into battle, your heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, pupils dilate, liver releases glucose and blood flows to your muscles increase.
Lastly, stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: Heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.
If stress can be reduced, either through meditation or another relaxation technique, you will be happier, healthier and hopefully stress-free. The first step to curing stress is to recognize that you have stress.